Complaints about agents rose to a new high last year, while firms found to have let consumers down paid out a record £2m in redress, The Property Ombudsman has revealed.
The redress scheme’s annual report and complaints data shows there was a record number of enquiries from agency users last year, up 22% annually to 29,023.
Of these, 4,246 went on to be formal complaints, up 16%, of which 2,782 were upheld and 2,381 required a financial award.
The amount of redress paid has now more than doubled since 2016, TPO said, standing at £2.17m at the end of last year.
Most complaints were in lettings, with 2,757 resolved, 66% supported by TPO and £1.5m paid in redress.
The highest single financial award in lettings was £16,291, with an average of £845.
Most lettings complaints, 54%, were from landlords, with 42% from tenants.
The top causes of complaints were communication and record keeping, management, tenancy agreements, inventories and deposits and complaint handling.
In sales, of 1,465 complaints resolved, 58% were supported by the Ombudsman.
Most of the complaints, 60%, were made by sellers, and 34% came from buyers.
The largest financial award in sales was £25,000 and redress averaged £608.
Communication and record keeping were also the main causes of complaints in sales, but cases also focused on marketing and advertising, terms of business and complaints handling.
The annual report also showed that TPO now has 15,897 sales agents and 14,746 letting agents as members – made up of a combination of companies and branches.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “Last year was extremely busy for TPO with increasing demand for the service.
“This does not necessarily mean that agents’ standards are slipping, but rather that consumers are increasingly aware of their rights, particularly off the back of the Government’s consultation into strengthening redress in the housing market, and subsequent media publicity on the future of consumer protection and driving out poor practice in the industry.
“TPO now also has 41,421 offices and departments following our codes of practice, approved by Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), 8% more than in 2017, an ever-increasing figure as we look to further extend our role to cover gaps in redress.
“I’m proud to say that my team not only coped with this increased workload but enabled the service to go from strength to strength.
“Our customer services team responded to a record number of people – nearly 30,000, who contacted TPO via phone, email, post or online chat service, either by signposting them to the right organisation or giving immediate advice on how to raise a complaint.
“We also handled more complaints than ever before, identified complaint trends causing rising levels of consumer detriment and took action to combat these, and modernised our processes to provide a faster service to consumers.
“Overall, 2018 represented a year of growth and improvement, and as we look ahead to 2019, I’m confident that TPO will continue to raise standards, update our sales and lettings codes of practice to reflect new legislation and meet whatever challenges the industry faces.”