Sort out shambles in property redress – and appoint just one Ombudsman, ministers told

Ombudsman Services – which is about to quit the residential property market sector – has called on the Government to install one single ombudsman for the entire housing industry.

Ombudsman Services, which is thought to be interested in the over-arching role, says there are currently almost 40 organisations giving some sort of redress.

The body says the current redress scheme is a “baffling patchwork”.

Matthew Vickers, chief ombudsman designate at Ombudsman Services, said: “Redress in the housing sector is far too complex, with overlaps and gaps that make it virtually impossible for consumers to get complaints resolved.

“Our research shows the vast and baffling patchwork of schemes that people are faced with when they have an unresolved complaint.

“The current system is fragmented, complicated and ineffective. Consumers deserve better.

“By following the model used in energy, where strong regulation is backed up by a single ombudsman and effective advocacy, redress in housing could be transformed for the better.

“Our research shows that the vast majority of the public support this approach.”

The proposal for a single ombudsman covering everything from social housing to private housing, builders and new homes, was put forward in a Ministry of Housing consultation earlier this year.

But while the Government seems strongly pre-disposed towards the idea, The Property Ombudsman scheme has rejected it.

TPO ombudsman Katrine Sporle has called for a single ombudsman in the private housing sector.

The regulator of such a redress scheme could be Propertymark. There would be another single ombudsman in the social sector.

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9 Comments

  1. Chris Wood

    Let’s hope someone, somewhere listens and, more importantly,  ACTS!

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  2. Robert May

    The  charging structure for redress is the thing that needs sorting out. It is simply madness that agents who have no need for a redress scheme have to pay a penny.

    The number of complaints that escalate to the redress scheme is miniscule; given about 2 million vendors engage selling agents each year and there are over 4 million tenant properties in the PRS  it would take 60,000 complaints to represent 1% of risk of redress, its nothing near that.

    At sub 1%  complaints it’s simple maths to work out most agents have no need for redress at all. Those who pay a subscription because they have to are effectively being fined to subsidise the agents creating the need for redress.

    Have a single redress scheme by all means but don’t tax agents who play the game fairly and honestly. Charge heavily per case handled seems a much stronger deterrent than “hey ho muggins next door is funding this!!”

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    1. Eric Walker

      Excellent post Robert. Prevention is indeed better than cure.

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    2. Eyereaderturnedposter12

      I don’t believe it is entirely accurate or fair to suggest that Agents against whom complaints are escalated to TPO/PRS etc., are not ”playing the game fairly and honestly”.

       

      My firm (a small independent, six branch regional) has had three complaints escalated to TPO in 2018, NONE of which include any debate or question as to the service provided. The crux of these ‘complaints’ have ALL been based on Landlord clients simply wishing to not pay fees due to our firm for services which have been have been supplied, are ALL clearly stated/worded in our contract of engagement, Ts&Cs and have been agreed to in full acceptance and understanding, by the client signing ”on the dotted line”. To my mind (and I am currently in direct correspondence with the Deputy Ombudsman- as my complaint against TPO’s inpetitude has been escalated internally), TPO exists to ensure that clients are protected against unscrupulous, incompetent, low-standard service provision- None of which I am proud to say, are associated with my firm. What I do not believe falls within TPO’s remit, is to engage with and support clients/”complainants” breaching contract. Such matters should be rightly dealt with via the SCC.

      What has become clear through the process of handling these complaints, is that TPO is an entirely shambolic organisation whose staffers are inadequately qualified, nor have the base knowledge of their own pre-action protocols/procedures to be able to adequately assess any sort of complaint whatsoever. On several occasions (one particular ‘complaint’ comes to mind) TPO have demanded a ‘Final Viewpoint’ letter and following my drawing of their attention to their own terms (as per TPO’s website), they have had to go back to the ”complainant” (armed with information provided by me personally) to inform the complainant that they must re-engage with my firm directly.

      I have no experience of other redress schemes, but I put forward my view that TPO is an organisation that is unfit for purpose, and seemingly actively encourages the most frivolous/misguided complaints simply to justify its own existence/fee structure.

      I would be very interested to hear whether other agents have had any similarly bungled complaints handled by TPO (or other redress schemes)?

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  3. Harry Albert Lettings Estates

    I feel that the Ombudsman should hold consumers in higher regard.

     

    Is it that they think consumers are so dim they can’t handle 3 companies? Blimey, no wonder we only have one supermarket brand, one brand of bread, Pepsi doesn’t exist because we have Coca-Cola and there’s of course, only one bank, one solicitor…

     

    What consumers need is a centralised complaints system with a centralised register which automatically forwards complaints to the relevant scheme instead of trying to create a monopoly for the redress scheme that comes out on top forcing agents to pay even higher costs whilst tenants pay us back in increased rents.

     

    Our industry is becoming the laughing stock of the country.

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    1. CountryLass

      And we are a laughing stock through no fault of our own! The people making the decisions have no experience of the industry, and know they will have moved on within a year, tops, and wont have to deal with the fall-out of their hare-brained schemes.

       

      I think the idea of a central hub for complaints is good, it shouldn’t be hard to put algorithms in place to identify multiple-offenders on both sides. If it was combined with a rogue agent/landlord/tenant register that would be even better. Agents can look at a landlords ‘reference’ and decide if they want to accept them as a client, and tenants can assess Agents etc. Make sure it is publicly available and its all good!

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  4. Realitycheck97

    Interesting comments. Sigh…

    ”I’m never going to get it wrong, so I shouldn’t need to be part of/pay for a redress scheme”.  Really?  Even articulating that view helps justify why mandatory redress is essential.  Clearly placing your own view of competence above the wider consumer interest.  Presumably you think seatbelts are an infringement of your civil rights and an insult to your driving ability.

    Yet no comment on Propertymark regulating an Ombudsman.   I’m thinking our esteemed newshound has that wrong.  A trade body doesn’t regulate an Ombudsman providing redress for… that trade body.

    Key fact:   Regulation is not Redress.  An Ombudsman is not a regulator.

    An Ombudsman provides redress after something has gone wrong.

    Whereas a Regulator pro-actively regulates what is done by those being regulated, to try and prevent harm occurring in the first place.

    Different…

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    1. CountryLass

      One is gun control, one is a doctor!

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    2. Ostrich17

      Interesting – perhaps the thinking is to have a statutory Ombudsman as per the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is accountable to the FCA.

      That would suggest Propertymark would also have to become a regulatory body for property, to take over the role of NTSEAT, as TSI don’t have the budget/resources to police the industry.

      All that lobbying for licencing of estate agents may be about to bear fruit?

       

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