Four separate estate and letting agencies have been expelled from membership of The Property Ombudsman and from registration for lettings redress for two or more years.
The reasons behind the expulsions are that they failed to pay awards made by the Ombudsman or failed to comply with parts of the TPO Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents.
The decision to expel the companies follows complaints made against them by landlords and tenants. In three of the cases, rent totalling over £9,000 had not been passed to the respective landlords.
The complaints were independently reviewed and upheld by the Ombudsman, who ordered payment of the money to those owed, together with compensation in all the cases. TPO members are required to comply with any award or direction given by the Ombudsman and accepted by the complainants.
To date, all four agents have failed to make any payment.
The first agent, Winchester Lettings Ltd, based in south London, was referred to the scheme’s Disciplinary and Standards Committee after failing to pay an award of £750 made to a landlord who had complained about poor service in a number of areas. TPO says this agency does not appear to be trading any more.
Miaisa Ltd, which traded as Gallery@HD1, a sales and lettings agent based in Huddersfield, was directed to pay £2,312 in rent due to a landlord as well as an additional award of £300 made by the Ombudsman, who upheld all complaints relating to the company. They were also directed to transfer £975 of tenant deposits.
At the time the case was referred to the Disciplinary and Standards Committee, the company was in a voluntary arrangement with its creditors but is now in liquidation. At one point it had an estimated deficit of nearly £200,000. Another company with the same director had previously traded as Gallery and also gone into liquidation.
TPO understands that the director has now set up a new company which is also trading as Gallery. Contrary to what it has been saying on its website and on Rightmove, it is not a member of TPO.
iBuild Property Management Ltd (which trades as iLettings UK), based in Hull, was ordered to pay an award of £350 in relation to its behaviour towards the complainant and its handling of a complaint. It is not clear whether or not ilettings UK is still trading.
The final agent is Clapham Lettings Ltd (which traded as Nelsons). Clapham Lettings covered only one of the three offices under the Nelsons brand, and no longer seems to be trading. The other Nelsons branches are operated by separate companies with separate TPO membership which is not affected by this decision.
Clapham Lettings Ltd failed to pay awards in two separate cases. The first complaint was by a tenant who said Clapham Lettings had not passed on his deposit or initial rent payment to the landlord. The Ombudsman upheld the complaint and ordered the company to pay over £4,000 to the landlord as well as £250 to the tenant in compensation. The second complaint was from a landlord owed over £2,800 in rent, which tenants had paid to the agent but the agent had not passed on. As well as ordering Clapham Lettings to hand over the rent, the Ombudsman made an award of £350.
Without registration these companies cannot legally trade as letting agents, and other redress schemes will not allow previously expelled agents to join. Landlords who lease their property with an agent that is not registered with TPO will not be entitled to have their dispute reviewed by the Property Ombudsman, and nor will any tenants renting through an unregistered agent.
Since all or most of the companies in question appear to have ceased trading the decision by the DSC to expel them from membership is unlikely to have any direct effect. However, the cases against them would affect a decision to allow any other company with the same Director to join TPO in the future. Two of the agents have already made an attempt to register as another company. All the agents have been referred to local trading standards departments by TPO.
“Cases like these are rare, with TPO facilitating early resolutions between agents and consumers in a vast majority of cases. However, in all four of these cases, the agents have not co-operated fully and have failed to pay awards made, and in some of the cases, monies owed” says Gerry Fitzjohn, chairman of the TPO board.
He continues: “Agents must comply with any award and/or direction made by The Ombudsman against them and pay the complainant the amount of any such award within the required period for payment. Cases of non-compliance are taken very seriously and are dealt with by the Disciplinary and Standards Committee of the TPO Council.”