Every sales and lettings agent in England is required to register with a Government-approved redress scheme, which enables consumers to have their complaint reviewed independently in the event of a dispute arising that the consumer is unable to resolve with the agent directly.
The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme offers one of these schemes, an independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers who have been unable to resolve their disputes with a registered agent, and in the course of doing so TPO has recently imposed penalties on these four letting agents:
Camborne Properties Limited trading as Harper Brooks, a sales and lettings & management agent in Liverpool, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for the non-payment of awards.
TPO can confirm that they have received over 100 separate complaints from leaseholders regarding Harper Brooks who defaulted on making assured rent quarterly payments in 2017 that they were contractually obliged to do.
Most of the complainants have been investors from Asia buying from the developer to let to students prior to the development being completed. In one case, the leaseholder had bought a property, to be let as student accommodation from a developer who was targeting the build to let market.
Having failed to meet their obligations under the agreement the Ombudsman supported this complaint. Harper Brooks were directed to pay the outstanding rent owed and an additional award was made for aggravation, distress and inconvenience. The total award was £9,900.
All complaints about this agent that have been reviewed by the Ombudsman have also been supported. The awards total just under £431,715.52 of which £419,079.96 was unpaid rent under the guaranteed rent agreements.
The Drake Lawson Limited trading as Alexander Reed, a sales and lettings agent in Isleworth, West London, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for the non-payment of three separate awards.
The Ombudsman supported three cases against Alexander Reed, one complaint from a tenant and the other two from landlords. In all cases, the Ombudsman was extremely critical of the agent for not co-operating with the investigation. There was no documentary evidence provided and therefore no proof that they had met their obligations under the TPO Code of Practice.
The Ombudsman referred the agent to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee which recommended the firm should be expelled from TPO and registration for redress.
Wara Ltd. trading as Secret Property and Wara. Buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords in Halifax are being warned that a local sales and letting agent trading under two different names, Secret Property and Wara, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for failing to pay an award of £2,300.
This means the firm Wara Ltd. trading as Secret Property and Wara, is not registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally. However, Secret Property’s website remains active, though inaccessible without signing up, and Wara’s website still has properties listed for sale.
The case, which led to the agent’s expulsion, was referred to The Property Ombudsman (TPO) when potential buyers of a property on the market with Secret Property were dissatisfied with the agent’s performance.
The buyers wished to reserve a property and paid a £2,000 deposit to the agent in March 2017. They said they were assured by the agent that if for any reason they withdrew, the deposit would be refunded. However, the buyers did not receive any written acknowledgement of the deposit or the terms and conditions attached to the payment. When they subsequently decided not to continue with the purchase and requested for the deposit to be returned, they did not receive a response from the agent, despite sending two letters of complaint via Royal Mail’s tracked and signed for delivery service.
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said:
“If an agent facilitates a pre-contract deposit, they have an obligation to take into account specific instructions from sellers. Before a deposit is taken, the circumstances under which the deposit is held, refunded, forfeited or used towards the purchase, should be clearly stated in writing, agreed by and issued to the relevant parties.”
Middlesbrough, TeesSurveyors Lettings Ltd (TSL), has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme for failing to pay awards in two cases relating to non-payment and late payment of rent. The awards total £3,133.06. This means TSL is not registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally.
In one case TSL failed to pass rent over to a landlord, despite rent payments being paid promptly each month by the tenant, leaving a shortfall of £1,201.25. As well as the missing rent, the Ombudsman awarded £500 for avoidable aggravation in relation to the missing rent and a further £100 for failing to respond appropriately to the complainant’s enquiry about gas safety certification. The award total across two cases is of £3,133.06.
Gerry Fitzjohn, Non-Executive Director and Chair of TPO’s Finance Committee said:
“All members of TPO are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman as well as co-operate with investigations, which TSL has failed on both counts. Although some attempt was made to pay the awards, this has not been settled in full. As part of TPO’s role to provide better consumer protection, we feel it is important to raise awareness to cases such as these, in the event that TSL attempts to continue trading with any existing landlords and tenants who may be unaware of the company’s position.”
The Ombudsman’s Terms of Reference, Codes of Practice, Consumer Guides and other documents about the operation of the scheme are available on the TPO website (www.tpos.co.uk), together with previous annual and interim reports, case summaries, further explanation of governance arrangements and a full list of registered agents.