On Wednesday 1 July 2020, The Property Ombudsman’s (TPO) Consumer and Industry Forums, chaired by Mark McLaren and Michael Stoop respectively, joined via Zoom to address emerging issues alongside the official launch of the Consumer Codes Steering Group.
As well as providing an opportunity to facilitate discussion and debate around specific issues which could result in consumer detriment, particularly in the changing post COVID-19 landscape of the property market, both Forums welcomed Baroness Dianne Hayter as Chair of the new RoPA Code of Practice Steering Group.
Following the Lord Best ‘Regulation of Property Agents Working Group, Final Report, July 2019’, the Steering Group, made up of consumer and industry representatives, is developing an overarching code of practice for all residential property agents in the UK. The code will be subject to wider consultation in the near future, with the longer term objective of providing it to the new industry regulator (the key recommendation in Lord Best’s report).
The first session from the Consumer Forum included an update from Gavin O’Leary of Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on measures taken to prevent the spread of Coronavirus which impact the housing market. Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, then provided an update on rising enquiry levels over the past five years and raised concerns over the increase in volume and complexity of lettings and residential leasehold complaints. Katrine also highlighted emerging complaint issues, which include video viewings and the use of CCTV in rental properties.
Other topics for discussion included the ongoing issue of ‘No DSS’ clauses in rental contracts, raised by Shelter, which confirmed the charity is making progress in lobbying for change to reduce discrimination surrounding tenants in receipt of benefits.
National Trading Standards Estate and Lettings Agency Team (NTSELAT) discussed the need to raise awareness of prohibited payments under the Tenant Fees Act, the different ways consumers can reclaim these payments and how NTSELAT have been giving training to local trading standards.
In addition to updates from Baroness Hayter, MHCLG and TPO, the Industry Forum heard from Theresa Wallace of The Letting Industry Council (TLIC) about the use of unique property reference numbers and discussed issues arising out of the nationwide lockdown and measures that must be taken by agents as gradual easing of lockdown is introduced.
Mark McLaren, Chair of the Consumer Forum, said:
“The Forums have proved extremely successful in raising and addressing issues which have, or could, cause consumer detriment. We work together to eliminate these through guidance, best practice and/or changes to TPO’s Codes of Practice. This has never been more important as we support the Steering Group in preparing an overarching, workable set of Codes which will enable consumers to understand the service standard they should expect from agents.”
Michael Stoop, Chair of the Industry Forum, said:
“A home is the most precious of commodities and affects people’s health and happiness – agents play a vital role in facilitating that and more must be done to educate consumers to choose professional agents who support regulation, qualifications and best practice. The Industry Forum, which is representative of the whole property sector including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has enabled us to listen to one another’s challenges in an ever-changing market and find ways to ensure agents learn to adapt so that they can be successful in delivering a professional and compliant service.”
The next TPO Consumer and Industry Forums will take place on 18 November 2020.
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NOTES TO EDITOR:
What is The Property Ombudsman?
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme offers an independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers who have been unable to resolve their disputes with a registered agent. The scheme was established in 1990. The Ombudsman can provide redress to place the consumer back in the position they were before the complaint arose, achieving a full and final settlement of the dispute and all claims made by either party. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman can make compensatory awards in individual cases up to a maximum of £25,000 for actual and quantifiable loss and/or for aggravation, distress and/or inconvenience caused by the actions of a registered agent.
TPO is funded through membership subscriptions and case fees and is free to all consumers.
At 31 December 2019 over 15,755 sales offices and 14,548 letting offices were registered with TPO.
Whilst TPO charges registered agents an annual subscription, the Ombudsman is accountable to the TPO Board which is chaired by a member of the House of Lords and with the majority of its members being independent from the industry.
The Ombudsman is not a regulator and does not have the authority to take regulatory or legal action against a registered agent.
Awards made by the Ombudsman in 2019 were paid by agents to consumers in 98% of cases. In the few cases where awards remain unpaid, agents are referred to the TPO Compliance Committee, which has the power to expel agents from the scheme. Expelled agents are reported to the appropriate authorities who have the power to ban agents from carrying out agency business.
If TPO becomes aware that an agent under investigation has ceased trading, complainants are promptly informed and, where an award is made, are provided with the necessary documentation to make a claim against that company. TPO’s agreement with the Property Redress Scheme, means that not only will expelled agents not be able to register for any form of redress, but any new company set up by the same directors will not be accepted for redress membership, until the Ombudsman’s award is paid.
The Ombudsman's Terms of Reference, Codes of Practice, Consumer Guides and other documents about the operation of the scheme are available on our website (www.tpos.co.uk), together with previous annual and interim reports, case summaries, further explanation of governance arrangements and a full list of registered agents.
For more information about TPO, please visit our website at www.tpos.co.uk