The latest figures released by The Property Ombudsman have revealed that there was a 20% rise in formal complaints during 2019 with £2.2m returned to consumers in compensatory awards.
Its 2019 annual report reflected continued demand from consumers for dispute resolution services and revealed that the TPO received 30,356 enquiries during the year, up only 4% on 2018.
Of these, 5,106 went on to be formal complaints, a rise of 20%. Despite a significant increase in complaints, compensatory awards paid by agents to consumers only rose by 1.4% to a total of £2.20 million. This is an effective barometer for the sector that progress is being made with agents complying with the TPO Codes of Practice.
The Property Ombudsman dealt with 2,518 complaints relating to lettings, 1,669 relating to sales and 780 for residential leasehold management. The biggest awards were £17,644, £20,200 and £21,439 respectively, and the average awards were £635, £742 and £273 respectively.
Management was the top cause of lettings complaints last year, but communication and record-keeping remained as the top cause of sales complaints. The manner in which agents dealt with complaints was again in the top three causes of complaints for lettings, sales and residential leasehold management.
The report also includes eight example case summaries of complaints received by TPO along with the outcome, as well as statistics relating to the minority of cases (0.1%) where agents were referred to TPO’s Compliance Committee for possible expulsion from the scheme for non-compliance. 98% of agents paid the Ombudsman’s award to the complainant and only 22 agents were expelled from the scheme.
Lettings statistical highlights:
67% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman
50% of complaints were made by landlords, while 48% were made by tenants (2% received by other)
The average lettings award was £635
The top causes of complaints were: (1) management, (2) communication and record keeping (3) complaints handling (4) tenancy agreements, inventories and deposits.
Sales statistical highlights:
63% of complaints were supported by the Ombudsman
67% of complaints were made by sellers, while 29% were made by buyers (4% received by other)
The average sales award was £742
The top causes of complaints were: (1) communication & record keeping, (2) complaints handling (3) marketing & advertising, (4) instructions/terms of business/commission/termination
Katrine Sporle, Property Ombudsman, said: “2019 was another busy year for TPO. Complaints ascended year on year again and we also saw the complexities of cases increase, particularly in the residential leasehold management field.
"As always, I’m proud that the team rose to the challenge of rising complaint numbers. Our Customer Services team responded to a record number of people, over 30,000 initial enquiries raised, with nearly 10,000 of those received through our 24/7 online chat service, a 7% increase on 2018. Just over 25,000 enquiries that did not go on to become formal complaints saw TPO effectively assist consumers in other ways, whether that be signposting them to the correct place or person or giving advice and guidance to promote a local resolution between them and the agent.
"In order to further enhance consumer experience, TPO has translated its work in the initial enquiry stage into a self-diagnostic tool. Still in its piloting phase, we hope to promote the online tool this year.
"Overall, 2019 represented a year of growth and improvement. 2020 has already brought a huge challenge with the outbreak of Covid-19. TPO acknowledges that the current situation is an extremely difficult one, for agents and consumers alike. TPO is here to help as best it can and is operating a full service. Consumers can still make a complaint at this time and the property industry can access information, guides and advice via our website.”