Greater protection for consumers in lettings sector

The Property Ombudsman Scheme is canvassing its members’ views on provision of Client Money Protection cover (CMP), which has the potential to give greater protection to consumers, particularly in the lettings sector. A full press release explaining the move is set out below.

TPO canvasses members over CMP

The Property Ombudsman Scheme (TPO) is canvassing member firms over the provision of Client Money Protection (CMP) insurance.

“Whilst membership of TPO requires all residential sales and letting agents to abide by the TPO Codes of Practice, have Professional Indemnity Insurance, and agents holding clients’ money to deposit this money in a separate clients account, it does not currently require residential letting agents to hold CMP,” explains Bill McClintock, chairman of the TPO operating company who is circulating a consultation document to members.

“Given that the Code of Practice is generally accepted as the primary standards document in the industry, the omission of such an important aspect needs to be addressed.

“This is something the board and the Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, have been considering for some time and recent incidences of both landlords and tenants suffering financial loss means action on CMP is now imperative. Private residential lettings reportedly make up 17 per cent of the UK housing stock.”

The consultation paper sets out various options and points out that members of ARLA, NALS, and RICS are required to have CMP. Some letting and management companies acting as subcontractors also provide CMP on all landlord and tenant funds.

McClintock is asking TPO members which of these options, or an alternative fallback position that all TPO member firms without CMP must disclose it in writing and actively flag its absence at the point of instruction or sale of services, they would prefer to see enforced through the TPO Lettings Code of Practice.

“TPO and its Codes of Practice are part of a consumer protection regime with the firm objective of raising standards in the industry,” adds McClintock. “Whilst TPO cannot force agents to sign up to the Code, firms should see the Codes as enhancing the reputation of the industry and for those that are already members of TPO the addition of a clause requiring CMP will enable them to demonstrate to landlords and tenants that their money is protected.

“TPO is a not-for-profit company and will not itself offer CMP to member firms as a new revenue stream. It is not appropriate for TPO to offer such services but I believe it is appropriate for member firms to have such cover. However, members now have the opportunity to express what they think should be the minimum required standard.”

End

Notes for Editors

What is TPO?

The Property Ombudsman scheme has been offering a free, independent and impartial dispute resolution service to consumers who are dissatisfied with the service provided by registered firms for more than 20 years. If a dispute is resolved in the consumer’s favour, the Ombudsman can provide redress to place the consumer back in the position they occupied before the complaint arose. Resolutions are designed to achieve a full and final settlement of the dispute and all claims made by either party. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman can make compensatory awards in individual cases up to a maximum of £25,000 for actual and quantifiable loss and / or for aggravation, distress and inconvenience caused by the actions of a registered firm.

Independence

Whilst TPO charges registered firms an annual subscription, the Ombudsman reports to the TPO Council, the majority of which is made up of non-industry members. It is the Council who appoints the Ombudsman and sets his Terms of Reference (i.e. how the complaint process operates). The Ombudsman is required to report to the Council on a regular basis.

The Ombudsman is not a regulator and does not have the authority to take regulatory or legal action against a registered firm. However, registered firms can be referred to the TPO Disciplinary and Standards Committee, appointed by the Council, which has the power to expel firms from the scheme and / or report them to the Office of Fair Trading, which has the power to ban firms from carrying out estate agency business.

TPO is a member of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA).

Membership

At June 1, 2012, more than 21,770 offices were registered with TPO. This figure includes 11,749 sales offices and 9,301 lettings offices. TPO estimates that these figures represented 93% of sales agents and 64% of lettings agents operating within the UK.