"We are clear that a single ombudsman is the right answer"
One of three official redress schemes in the sector, The Property Ombudsman, handled a record 68% more enquiries in 2017 compared to the previous year, making use of new digital channels to tap into significant volumes of additional people needing help with property-related issues.
In a keynote speech to the National Association of Estate Agents, the Ombudsman, Katrine Sporle, said that through a close partnership with Yomdel, the UK’s leading provider of managed live chat, she had been able to extend her team’s opening hours to 24/7 and offer critical support to people needing help with their tenancies, property transactions or other problems with estate and letting agents.
“We hit a staggering 68% increase in the number of enquiries [in 2017]. We had found a whole new source of people who wanted to make inquiries in the middle of the night, students for one” Sporle said. “All of a sudden we were actually giving advice and guidance to a whole new range of people which was actually helping the industry, not hindering.”
But the critical impact was that the massive increase in enquiries did not lead to a huge increase in formal complaints, with complaint volumes increasing just 3% in the year.
Andy Soloman, Yomdel founder, said that because his company and TPO closely collaborated, the team of Yomdel live chat operators were able to work to very high standards as a genuine extension of the in-house TPO customer care team.
He explained: “The results were simply incredible, we have been able to professionally represent TPO and effectively offer guidance and advice to people who are often experiencing tricky personal situations with a landlord or estate agent.
Through our ground-breaking work together, TPO is perfectly positioned to secure an increased mandate from the government to be the sole property-related ombudsman redress scheme. Unlike Ombudsman services in any other sector, TPO is unique in that it is genuinely open and available to consumers 24 hours every single day and that should be a non-negotiable requirement of all redress and consumer support services.”
A current government consultation that is likely to recommend the streamlining of the three redress schemes and the appointment of just one official ombudsman service for all property-related issues.
Sporle said: “We are clear that a single ombudsman is the right answer,” before adding that the TPO was investing in a modernising programme which is going to be much more accessible to consumers as TPO surveys show that only 10% of people know how they can complain about an estate agent.