A surge in the number of complaints about letting agents has led to the property ombudsman being unable to cope with the unexpected workload.
Last year the ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, received 15,782 complaints about sales and letting agents, an increase of 12% on 2011.
However, 53% of those complaints are about letting agents with 27% being complaints about sales agents.
In his annual report, Mr Hamer admits that the increased workload has affected the work they do since he had predicted work levels 16% below what they are.
The increase in complaints has led to longer completion times but, he says, the service is returning to a more acceptable level.
Last year saw 8,334 individual letting inquiries in which there were 14,017 different issues raised by consumers.
The ombudsman decided to proceed to formal review on 934 of those complaints, up from 768 in 2011.
The ombudsman also registered 399 landlord complaints and 330 tenant complaints last year.
His report reveals that the largest proportion of complaints which went to review were from greater London and the South-East which made up 25% and 26% of the complaints respectively.
The ombudsman supported 74% of complaints made against letting agents.
The annual report reveals that the biggest source of complaint, which made up 54% of the total, was poor service.
In 12% of inquiries, complainants raised issues about the fees and charges of letting agents.
Other issues concerned unfair business practices (19%), security deposits (6%) and repairs and maintenance (6%).
Mr Hamer also used the report to raise his concerns about letting agents holding deposits, especially those who retain money when the tenant pulls out of a rental before moving in as not fair.
He said the sum involved in many of these cases was around £500 and he said that agents should only charge a prospective tenant fees for gaining references and for reasonable administration charges.
He said tenants should not forfeit the money if they decide not to proceed with the tenancy.
Instead, he says, it should be made clearer to a tenant that the stand to lose this money if they pull out and if they do go ahead with the tenancy agreement than the money should be credited against their future rent.
The annual report also includes some interesting case studies that have been dealt with in the past year.
One of them concerns a couple who, after renting a property, found that the landlord, who worked next door, was using their toilet but his spending a penny cost him £1,149 when the ombudsman found that the couple had not been properly informed in writing of this arrangement.
The ombudsman’s report can be downloaded at: http://www.tpos.co.uk/annual_reports.htmax