In the first quarter of 2023, eight agents were excluded from The Property Ombudsman (TPO) for failing to pay a compensatory awards following complaints from consumers.
All eight agents were referred to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee, which ruled that they should be excluded from The Property Ombudsman scheme.
The excluded agents include:
Doorsteps.co.uk – TPO supported a complaint and ordered Doorsteps.co.uk to pay a vendor £1,000, which it failed to do. This was for an agreed refundable deposit paid for a conveyancing service which the vendor subsequently did not need due to removing the property from the market. There were four other cases of non-payment of awards totalling £3195. The agent is no longer trading and going through insolvency on Companies House.
Surrenden Invest – TPO supported a complaint by a buyer after Surrenden Invest failed to return a reservation fee of £2,500 and failed to communicate with the buyer. The buyer was awarded a refund and £100 for aggravation, distress and inconvenience. The agent is no longer trading and going through insolvency on Companies House.
House Estate Agents, a letting agent in Stockport, Cheshire – TPO supported five complaints raised against House Estate Agents which included failing to transfer rent promptly, failing to transfer the tenant’s deposit to a custodial account as directed by the landlord, failing to transfer referencing checks to the new agent, charging for outstanding maintenance works, and failing to return keys held as requested. An award totalling £1,000 was made. TPO does not believe the agent is still trading.
Clarendon, a letting agent in Leicestershire. The agent failed to transfer over the tenant’s rental payments for five months and did not respond to communication from the landlord. The tenant’s deposit was also held by Clarendon, however, the landlord had used his own money to pay it back to the for missing rent and deposit. The agent no longer appears to be trading and has left the premises from where they were operating.
Flatfocus Management Ltd – Concerns had been raised about business practices, behaviour, competency and absence of financial accounting and reporting. The agent had been accused of making fraudulent withdrawals from the company bank account and handed a conditional caution by police as well as an order to pay.
Other complaints included a catalogue of management failures. For example, failure to comply with recommended annual inspections related to asbestos, putting residents at risk. A total award of £9,750 was made for the numerous serious complaints. The gravity of the breaches was considered so severe that the TPO adjudicator recommended to the Ombudsman that she refer this case to the consumer enforcement body, National Trading Standards Estate and Lettings Agency Team (NTSELAT) for any action they may deem necessary. It is uncertain whether the agent is still trading.
DA Investments Limited, Essex – A dispute over dual fees, where two agents were claiming a fee for the sale of a property was brought to The Property Ombudsman. Both agents were instructed on a Multi-Agency basis and maintained that they were entitled to a commission fee. The sellers paid the second agent (DA Investments Limited), whose fees were less.
The Ombudsman supported the first agent’s claim to their commission fee as it was clear they had introduced the buyers and, therefore, had a legitimate claim to having been the introducing agents. DA Investments Limited was directed to refund the monies (£4000) that had been paid, so that the sellers could use this to pay the commission fee owed to the first agent. They did not pay the monies.
Empire Estates UK – a buyer complained that she paid a reservation fee/holding deposit to the agent but despite her requests, they failed to pay this fee over to the developer, nor did they return this sum to her.
TPO awarded £500 to reflect the impact of Empire Estates shortcomings in service as well as directing them to return the sum of £6,000, which they failed to do. TPO does not believe the agent is still trading
River Rae Ltd (now changed to Robinsons & Hardings Investments Limited) –
The Ombudsman’s awarded a commercial tenant a partial refund of £750 of £1,200, which the agent had retained from a sourcing fee for finding serviced accommodation for the tenant’s business. The tenant considered the agent had provided her with misleading information which was different to the contract she had signed. This award was to reflect the agent’s failed obligation to provide clear and understandable contract provisions and communications regarding a fee refund should the tenant withdraw. A payment plan was set up for the agent to pay the complainant, but was not honoured. It is thought that the agent is still trading.
As part of TPO’s compliance process, notification of these expulsions has been shared with all relevant bodies, including both Local and National Trading Standards for further investigation, as well as all property portals. The memorandum of understanding between TPO and the Property Redress Scheme prevents agents from registering with the other scheme until outstanding awards have been paid to consumers.