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Property Ombudsman expels lettings agencies over payments issues

The Property Ombudsman has released details of two letting agencies expelled over financial issues, and the extension of an expulsion period for a third agency. 

In each case, TPO is warning local Trading Standards teams and members of the public about the companies; until they have resolved the financial issues in question and regained membership of a redress scheme, they cannot trade legally.

In the first case Wilkins Residential, an agency in Hove, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman scheme for 18 months after the Ombudsman supported a complaint relating to non-payment of rent on three properties to landlords whose properties it managed.

The complainants said that the agent received rent from the tenants at three properties, but had improperly retained funds calculated to total £12,925. 

The agent did not respond to requests from TPO to provide a statement of accounts or their company file, which in the Ombudsman’s view, was persuasive evidence of such shortcomings.  

In addition, the Ombudsman found that the agent had emailed the complainants to confirm the accounts would be up to date as soon as possible, which also persuaded the Ombudsman that it had received funds which were not passed to the landlords.

However, the Ombudsman found that the complainants’ calculation for rent due had not taken into account the agent’s commission (which is a contractual right).  

Therefore, the Ombudsman made a total award of £12,739.30, which comprised £12,925 for missing rent less commission at seven per cent plus VAT (£1,085.70), together with an award for compensation of £900 for the shortcomings in service.

The agent did not pay the outstanding award and the case was referred to TPO’s Disciplinary & Standards Committee which ruled the firm should be expelled from TPO. 

“In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I accepted the complainants’ version of events and the amount of outstanding rent due to be paid. This agent has not only failed to respond to the complainants’ communications in relation to the matter, which undoubtedly exacerbated the aggravation caused, they also failed to cooperate with TPOs complaint review” says Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman.

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In the second case, Wincon Limited (which trades as Wincon Properties), a London agency, failed to pay an award of £425 to a complainant following a ruling by TPO. 

The Ombudsman supported four aspects of the complaint, and found the agent had failed to:

Advertise the property correctly: It was described as a two-bedroom flat when in fact it was a three-bedroom flat and the third room had already been rented out by the agent;

- Disclose that VAT was payable on top of the stated administration fee;

- Protect a tenant’s deposit within the required 30 days of the tenancy commencing or provide the information prescribed by law; and

- Communicate appropriately or with timely responses.

“This complaint highlights the important responsibility agents have to effectively communicate with their clients, whether landlords, tenants, buyers or sellers, to ensure disputes are resolved. Many of the issues raised in this complaint could have been avoided if the agent had communicated more effectively. In addition, I was not satisfied that the agent’s responses made it clear how the tenant could pursue her complaint with TPO. This falls short of the service agents must offer consumers” says Katrine Sporle.

The agent, which trades as Wincon Properties from 58 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9TP, is still actively listing properties ‘For Sale and ‘To Let’ on its website. 

“TPO is therefore warning consumers to be aware that this firm is not registered with a redress scheme, required for every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally” says a statement from the Ombudsman.

In the third case, Seekers Estate Agents based in Erdington, Birmingham, has had its expulsion from membership of The Property Ombudsman scheme extended from two to three years, after a further consumer complaint was brought against the agent.

In November 2017, Seekers Estate Agents was expelled from TPO for failing to pay awards totalling £4,137 following two separate complaints by landlords.

These included the agent’s failure to provide a written management agreement, giving prospective tenants access to a property before they had signed an agreement, giving wrong and mis-leading information, and not protecting the tenant’s deposit or carrying out referencing checks. 

There were also several management issues during the tenancy relating to arranging suitable contractors to carry out work required and investigating possible breaches of tenancy.

A further case has been brought to The Property Ombudsman’s attention where a tenant raised similar concerns about the agent. The complainant, who let a property through Seekers, paid £1,375 which the agent said was to cover the deposit and £550 rent in advance. 

However, the deposit was not recorded in the tenancy agreement nor was it protected in a deposit scheme. When another agent took over management of the property, no credit was made nor was the deposit transferred. When the complainant left the property, the complainant could not reclaim the deposit because the new agent had no record of it. 

The Ombudsman criticised Seekers for its further failings and awarded the complainant £1,000 to cover the deposit (£825) and aggravation distress and inconvenience (£175).

The agent did not respond to requests from The Property Ombudsman or co-operate with the complaint reviews and did not pay the award. The Disciplinary & Standards Committee has ruled the firm should be expelled from TPO for a further period of one year.

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    Can somebody tell me why these agents are still trading? Is there no criminal element in trading unlawfully? Is the system effective? I only ask!

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