Property news: Agents back Ombudsman

Gerry Fitzohn'chief operating officer of The Property Ombudsman
Gerry Fitzohn'chief operating officer of The Property Ombudsman

Lettings agents across the UK are continuing to show their support for The Property Ombudsman scheme (TPO), with more than 300 offices joining this year to take the total past 9,000.

Gerry Fitzjohn, chief operating officer, says: “The Government continues to ignore pleas for residential letting agents to be regulated in the same way as sales agents, which we believe would raise standards across the industry.

“But letting agents are showing themselves to be increasingly ready to commit to the TPO Lettings Code of Practice, which now has Stage 1 approval under the OFT Consumer Codes Approval Scheme and is fast moving towards full approval as we undertake monitoring of agents.

“When you consider that TPO only started offering redress for lettings six years ago this month, to achieve 9,068 letting offices within the scheme is phenomenal.

“We have enrolled around two thirds of all letting offices in the UK.

“TPO also has 11,623 sales offices, more than 90 per cent of the UK total, the highest-ever number and still rising. TPO is now the largest membership body in UK estate agency. It reflects the steady move within the industry towards the higher standards encouraged by our codes of practice.

“Members have gone far beyond the legal requirement, even for sales agents, who are compelled by law only to register for redress. Registered agents give a vastly weakened undertaking that does not make them sign up to higher standards.”

“TPO is a not-for-profit company owned and operated by the industry, with an independent council overseeing the appointment of the Ombudsman and the operation of the scheme itself.

“Our primary purpose is to offer a complaints resolution service, but TPO is not a regulator, as some believe,” added Gerry, who has been in the industry since 1974.

“TPO is here purely to resolve disputes between agents and buyers, sellers, landlords, or tenants, and ensure fair play, although members who commit serious breaches of our codes are reported to the OFT and Trading Standards.

“This is a very rare event, as the vast majority of agents abide by the standards defined in the codes, and are committed to offering consumers greater protection by being members of TPO.”

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The Property Ombudsman scheme has been offering a free, independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers, who are dissatisfied with the service provided by registered firms, for more than 20 years.

If a dispute is resolved in the consumer’s favour, the Ombudsman can provide redress to place the consumer back in the position they occupied before the complaint arose.

Resolutions are designed to achieve 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 inconvenience caused by the actions of a registered firm.

While TPO charges registered firms an annual subscription, the Ombudsman reports to the TPO Council, the majority of which is made up of non-industry members.

It is the council which appoints the Ombudsman and sets his terms of reference (i.e. how the complaint process operates).

The Ombudsman is required to report to the council on a regular basis. The Ombudsman is not a regulator, and does not have the authority to take regulatory or legal action against a registered firm.

However, registered firms can be referred to the TPO Disciplinary and Standards Committee, appointed by the council, which has the power to expel firms from the scheme and/or report them to the Office of Fair Trading, which has the power to ban firms from carrying out estate agency business.

The Ombudsman’s terms of reference, the codes of practice, consumer guides and other documents about the operation of the scheme are available on the website (www.tpos.co.uk), together with previous annual and interim reports, further explanation of governance arrangements and a full list of registered firms.