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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Agent expelled by one redress scheme, suspended by another

Allen & Crane Estates, a sales and lettings agent based in Burnham near Slough, has been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman for at least two years after complaints from landlords instructing the firm to let their properties.

A statement from the TPO says the agency failed to comply with numerous elements of the Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents and subsequently failing to pay an Ombudsman’s award made of £1,600 to the complainants.

All of the complaints made by the landlords were upheld to varying degrees by the Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer. 

The agent allowed tenants to take occupation of the property without the landlords’ knowledge and without evidence of reference checks having been carried out, making them in breach of paragraphs 7b and 7g of the TPO Code of Practice. 

There was also a delay in providing the landlords with a copy of the tenancy agreement. 

Other issues include the agent’s failure to obtain any security deposit or a valid guarantor agreement, failure to provide regular and clear statements of account following rent being paid in irregular instalments and finally their inability to demonstrate that they had inspected the property regularly or upon check-out. The complainant also alleged that Allen & Crane Estates were difficult to communicate with.

Following the investigation, the Ombudsman awarded the complainants a total of £1,600 in compensation. Allen & Crane Estates have still not paid the award.

“The shortcomings in the service provided by Allen & Crane Estates that I identified, particularly with regards to the lack of referencing and security deposits, are serious, and are matters which have significantly disadvantaged the complainants. I therefore supported the complaints that have been made” says Hamer. 

The Disciplinary and Standards Committee (DSC) of TPO considered that Allen & Crane’s failure to comply with the Code and to pay the award were serious and flagrant breaches of the Code of Practice and decided Allen & Crane should be excluded from TPO for a minimum of two years.

Allen & Crane Estates had been a member of TPO since May 2007, but withdrew whilst this complaint was being considered. It since joined the rival Property Redress Scheme - which was unaware of the disciplinary action against the agent - but PRS has since suspended membership and this will not be reinstated until the award has been settled.

“Agents cannot avoid paying awards if they jump from one scheme to another. Under the guidance of the Department for Communities and Local Government the three approved redress schemes will not accept into membership any agent that does not meet its obligations to another scheme. Allen & Crane’s membership with PRS has now been suspended and will not be reinstated until they receive confirmation from TPO that the award has been paid in full and the issue has been resolved” says Hamer. 

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    Not that I condone in anyway the actions of this agent, but there are three distinct schemes each with slightly different Codes of Practice.

    If the others are to not accept into its membership an agent that does not meet its obligations to another scheme, then they are effectively enforcing a different Code of Practice (another schemes code). Therefore they should either align their terms or merge into one. Anything other makes no sense!

  • The Property  Redress Scheme

    Hi Luke,

    My name is Hannah, I handle Agent Compliance and Discipline at the Property Redress Scheme.

    All three schemes have agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with one another -this means that the schemes will not accept Agents as a member if the Agent has been expelled or are currently facing disciplinary action from another scheme.

    It was deemed by TPO in the above case that the Agent owed £1,600. Rather than comply with this decision as obligated, they decided to ignore the award and join our scheme instead. As it stands, the Complainants in the case have still not been paid.

    This is unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated by any scheme. Though each scheme's rules may differ slightly, we have a common line of action which always includes compliance with an Ombudsman/Head of Redress decision.

    So it is not a case of enforcing each other’s code. All Agents are given the choice of which scheme they would like to join and are then bound to comply with that particular scheme's rules. However, Agents cannot simply jump ship between schemes if an award is made against them. Allowing an expelled Agent to join another scheme and carry on trading as normal would effectively make paying redress scheme awards 'voluntary' which they certainly are not.

    In order to protect consumers and ensure that redress scheme decisions are upheld, the schemes are working together by sharing information about Agents that continue to flout their legal obligations. As such, we will not re-instate this Agent's membership until the Complainants have been paid in full and final settlement and we receive confirmation from TPO that all outstanding issues have been resolved.

    I hope that this clarifies our position on this issue

    Kind Regards,

    Hannah Moody, PRS

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