Letting agents made up the bulk of complaints to The Property Ombudsman (TPO) last year as the number of issues raised by consumers rose.
The TPO’s annual report for 2017, published today, reveals a 3% increase in complaints last year to 3,658, of which 2,212 – up 11% annually – were against letting agents and 1,098 in the sales sector, a 16% drop compared with 2016.
However, the total number of complaints that went to formal adjudication represented a fraction of the 23,841 original enquiries, representing a huge 68% surge from the year before following the introduction of 24-hour live chat service by Yomdel.
Yomdel had 6,458 live chats which led to 946 new complaints being received; the customer service team dealt with another 14,671 queries which were given on the spot advice or signposted to another organisation.
Two thirds of the formal lettings complaints were upheld while 62% were supported in sales, down from 76% and 73% respectively in 2016.
TPO made financial awards to consumers in 2,408 instances which totalled £1.36m, an increase of 11% on the previous year.
The highest award paid by an agent was £25,000 and total awards in sales were up 4% to £360,178 and rose 18% in lettings to £931,092.
The top causes of complaints in lettings – where the average award was £625 – were management, communication and record keeping, tenancy agreements, inventories and deposits and in-house complaints procedure.
Almost half (49%) of complaints were made by landlords, while 45% were made by tenants.
The average sales award was £532, with the top causes for complaints being communication and record keeping, marketing & advertising, instructions/ terms of business/ commission/ termination and in-house complaints handling.
The majority (60%) of complaints were made by sellers, while 34% were made by buyers
The annual report also revealed there were 55 referrals to its disciplinary and standards committee (DSC) where an agent had failed to follow a ruling, down from 61 in 2016.
Of those 55 referrals, 51 were for failure to pay an award or implement recommendations.
The majority of DSC referrals, 36, were regarding letting agents, with the remaining 15 for sales.
DSC intervention led to 14 cases being settled.
However, of the remainder, the agent had already ceased trading in eight cases, TPO said, and in another 18 the agent was no longer a member of TPO or any other redress scheme.
Even though those 26 were unlikely to be resolved, the agent cannot easily re-register for redress unless those liabilities are addressed.
Altogether, 28 agents were expelled from membership last year, of which 11 were sales and 17 were lettings.
The report showed that TPO membership increased by 0.67% to 38,272.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, used the report to repeat calls for a single Ombudsman for the private property sector and a separate one for the social sector as part of Government plans to regulate agency.
She said: “We cannot see one Ombudsman being effective for the whole of the private and social sector.
“We think there should be a single Ombudsman for the private property sector and a single Ombudsman for the social sector, with clear partnership working between the two.
“Whatever happens this will not take place overnight and we pledge ourselves to finding positive solutions to the needs of consumers and the industry for the foreseeable future, as well as working in partnership with all stakeholders to find the right solutions.”