The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme will be issuing revised Codes of Practice for sales and lettings agents from next month to further improve standards in the industry and ensure consumers are treated fairly.
The Codes, which will be effective from 1st August 2014 and reflect the developments in industry practice and legislative changes affecting both consumers and agents.
TPO is the UK's largest property redress scheme, which provides a free, fair and impartial dispute resolution service for consumers. More than 28,500 sales and lettings offices have registered with TPO and follow its Codes of Practice which provide a set of standards to ensure registered firms exercise best practice and comply with relevant primary and secondary legislation.
Christopher Hamer, the Ombudsman, said: 'The revised codes incorporate the many changes in legislation that have occurred over recent years, emphasising the importance of adhering to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and the new 14 day cancellation period. They represent a comprehensive set of standards by which agents should run their businesses, leading to reduced risk for the consumer, fewer complaints and consistency across the sector.'
The Ombudsman applies the Codes of Practice when reviewing consumer complaints to ascertain if a registered agent has breached the required standard, which might result in the Ombudsman directing the agent to pay an award (up to the value of £25,000). The Ombudsman will refer serious Code breaches to TPO's independent Disciplinary & Standards Committee, which has the powers to fine or expel agents and engage with regulators such as Trading Standards and the Competition and Market Authority.
Both the sales and lettings Codes include an expanded Glossary of Terms to clearly define terms such as 'aggressive behaviour', 'average consumer', 'harassment', 'material information' and 'transactional decision'.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Chief Operating Officer, said: 'The Codes provide a robust framework in which registered firms should operate. They cover the entire process of selling, buying, letting and renting a property, including information disclosure, offers, deposits, conflicts of interest and the agent's duty of care. The Codes are widely recognised as an essential tool that TPO agents can use to assure buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords about the fair and honest service they can expect to receive.'
The first TPO Code of Practice was introduced in 1990 and there have been for updated versions released subsequently, with several new Codes launching over recent years to represent other property sectors, such as lettings (which was launched in 2006) commercial agents, Chattels/auction houses, residential buying agents and property buying agents.
The Codes will be effective ahead of new legislative changes that will make it a legal requirement for all letting agents to register with an approved redress scheme, which is expected to come into force later this year. (With 60% of UK letting agents already members of TPO, the scheme recently received government approval to operate a redress scheme under the new legislation).
 The first Code of Practice was introduced in 1990, when TPO was known as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents