New figures released this morning from The Property Ombudsman show that the overwhelming number of disputes in the past year involved letting agents.
Issues dealt with at a so-called enquiry stage by TPO numbered just under 14,000 from tenants and landlords about their letting agent; this was double the combined 5,500 buyer and seller issues relating to their estate agent and the 3,000 leaseholder issues about their managing agent.
In addition there were over 1,500 tenant issues about their landlord where no agent was involved - these were dealt with by TPO at the enquiry stage, with tenants being provided with advice and guidance to help them resolve their issues.
Outside of the rental sector there were just under 17,000 further consumers who were provided with advice and guidance through TPO’s self-service portal; another 6,012 disputes were resolved through early resolution or formal ombudsman decision.
Despite these high complaint totals, TPO insists that compliance with Ombudsman decisions remains extremely high at 98.4 per cent.
In total in 2022 some 44,492 consumers were provided with advice and guidance, and the organisation says: “A greater emphasis on educating consumers and providing them with advice specific to their individual situation, coupled with changes to the Scheme’s Terms of Reference, saw TPO help more consumers to resolve their issues without the need to complain to their agent or to TPO.”
There was a financial settlement or award granted in 3,206 of cases, with just 33 unpaid awards resulting in the expulsion of 22 agents from the scheme.
Top causes of lettings disputes were Tenancy management followed by Complaints Handling and then Instructions, terms of business, fees, charges and termination.
TPO says: “The high levels of enquiries and disputes relating to repair and maintenance issues (which comes under tenancy management) underlines the need to raise the standard of private rented housing stock.”
Rebecca Marsh, The Property Ombudsman, says: “Difficult market conditions will increase competition to gain instructions from sellers and landlords. In both instances agents must strive to ensure that market valuations are reasonable and are supported by comparable properties.
“For tenants and buyers, clarity around offers will be paramount and agents must communicate these in writing to all relevant parties.
“Specific to the lettings market, high levels of enquiries from tenants and landlords seeking advice from TPO indicates a real need for consumer education to help them understand the roles and responsibilities of all the parties involved. For agents, these enquiries show that regular communication to tenants about the progress of repairs and maintenance issues is a lesson that, if learned, will provide assurance that matters are in hand and, ultimately reduce the potential for complaints to arise.”