Red door

Please Note: All references to the masculine include the feminine on TPO website and documents.

News From 2011

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Chinese delegates visit The Property Ombudsman

19 December 2011 | Press Release

A party of 20 officials from the Chinese Government has called on the Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, as part a fact-finding tour of the UK.

Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer (left) presents Mr. Ma Ji, Deputy Secretary-General, Government of Qinghai Province, and Director General, Qinghai Provincial Bureau for Letters and Calls, with a picture of Salisbury Cathedral to mark the delegation's visit.

Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer (left) presents Mr. Ma Ji, Deputy Secretary-General, Government of Qinghai Province, and Director General, Qinghai Provincial Bureau for Letters and Calls, with a picture of Salisbury Cathedral to mark the delegation's visit.

The visit by senior staff from the Department of Letters and Calls was organised by the Chinese foreign affairs department and formed part of a programme to review complaints handling and dispute resolution procedures within the UK.

After a presentation from Mr Hamer, followed by a question and answer session, the delegates toured the TPO head office at Milford House, Milford Street, Salisbury, before an exchange of gifts took place.

'As China moves towards a more consumer-focused society, so the Government there wants to find more informed ways of dealing with consumer disputes,' explained Mr. Hamer. 'The delegates were very interested in the approach we take as an alternative to the formal court process.'

At the start of December, a film crew making a television series about 'Britishness' for a German TV network visited TPO head office as part of the programme concerning home ownership in the UK. Interviews were held with Mr Hamer and members of the initial enquiries and case officer teams.

'Communicating with the British crew making the film for German TV was easier than discussing matters through an interpreter with the Chinese delegation but it was interesting to see so much international focus on how we do things.'

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Ombudsman comments on new report calling for regulation of letting agents

08 December 2011 | Press Release

Following a mystery shopping exercise carried out at 25 letting agent offices, the Resolution Foundation has published a report which indicates that tenants continue to face significant upfront costs, variable fees and a lack of transparency surrounding charges.

The report, entitled 'Renting in the dark', also considered the problem many tenants have of finding a deposit to secure their next property whilst their current deposit was still being determined. The report concluded by calling for:

  • Letting agents to be regulated to the same level as estate agents, so that unscrupulous agents can be banned;
  • All agents to be signed up to an ombudsman service giving redress to tenants;
  • The ombudsmen's codes of practice to stipulate that agents must display all charges to tenants and landlords on their website and in adverts in a way that is easily comparable across agents;
  • The Government to consider ways to make it easier for tenants to transfer deposits between landlords when they re-tender for the tenancy deposit protection schemes in 2012.

Christopher Hamer, The Property Ombudsman, said: 'This report emphasises the growing importance of the lettings sector for people seeking a home to live in.

'The Government does not see regulation of the sector as a priority and I, therefore, welcome the recommendation of this report that all letting agents should be required to be registered with an ombudsman scheme so that, at least, landlords or tenants can gain redress where they have been disadvantaged by an agent.

'Providing clarity and transparency of fees is also very important. As more and more people become tenants or landlords, these measures would assist them in fully understanding the commitments they are taking on and enable them to challenge the agent if anything is unclear.'

The full report from the Resolution Foundation can be downloaded here: http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/renting-dark

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My Fight for a Level Playing Field

05 December 2011 | Media Article

Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer is celebrating five years in office. Here, he tells Clare Bettelley (The Negotiator) about the highlights of the role, how the agency market has changed in this time and how his fight for a level playing field continues.

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TPO discusses 'naming and shaming' and Agent league tables

23 November 2011 | Media Article

TPO keeps the idea of 'naming and shaming' agents under review and discusses the difficulties surrounding league tables which names agents.

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Ombudsman looking at cover for non-affiliated agents

18 November 2011 | Press Release

The Ombudsman shares his views about client money protection with Letting Agent Today.

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Guardian Letting Market Poll

18 November 2011 | Press Release

The Guardian asked prominent Industry figures 'Is the Rental Market Working?' and invited the public to have their say.

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'Rude' agent expelled after derisory offer over Ombudsman's award

14 October 2011 | Press Release

An estate agency that failed to pay a £500 award made against it and which was rude to the complainant has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman scheme.

Orchard estate agents, which operates a sales and lettings agency from The Clock House, Bedford Street, Ampthill, Bedfordshire, MK45 2NB, had been judged by the Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, to have failed to keep clear and written records and to produce them when he required to see them to investigate the complaints from a property seller.

Not all of the complaints were upheld but the Ombudsman made an award of £500, which the firm failed to pay. It had offered to settle the award through small instalments which would have taken about four years but the complainant exercised the right to reject this.

The Ombudsman scheme's disciplinary and standards committee (DSC) wrote to the agency saying that the award must still be paid but, aware that the agency was for sale, added that its censure of the agency for its behaviour would not be publicised.

The agency responded in robust terms that it wanted to withdraw from TPO, said Gerry Fitzjohn, vice chairman of the company operating the scheme, despite the DSC already criticising Orchard's use of 'dismissive, unprofessional and offensive' language in responding to the complainant and TPO staff.

'We have refused their withdrawal from full TPO membership and they now have the minimum legal requirement of Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act registration,' added Mr Fitzjohn.

'It is a regrettable state of affairs when a company can only reply with rudeness to both a complainant and TPO staff and make a derisory offer to settle an award against it.

'The failure to apologise to the complainant or to comply with the Ombudsman's award are flagrant breaches of our sales code of practice and the only appropriate disciplinary action is for Orchard Estate Agents to be expelled from TPO voluntary membership for a minimum of two years.

'Orchard retains CEARA registration for its sales activities until such time as the DSC decides the expulsion can be rescinded because only the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is able to ban an estate agent from trading. If TPO denied CEARA registration, the effect would be to close the agent's residential sales business. However, OFT and Trading Standards will be made aware of this expulsion and the reasons for it.'

The company is also still able to operate its lettings activities as there is as yet no legal requirement for lettings agents to offer independent redress to settle complaints. However, 8,467 lettings agency offices are currently signed up to the TPO lettings code of practice on a voluntary basis.

End

Notes for editors:

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to consumers who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish. Over the 21 years the scheme has been running only handful of complainants have rejected the Ombudsman's decision and taken their dispute elsewhere.

Unlike residential sales agents, lettings agents are not required by the Consumers, Estate Agent and Redress Act, which came into effect on October 1, 2008, to have a redress scheme in place, so joining TPO remains entirely voluntary. It is unclear exactly how many lettings agents operate in the UK, but the likely figure is around 12,000.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. OEA, now TPO, was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

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'The key to security and Best Practice lies in looking after your clients' keys.' says Christopher Hamer The Property Ombudsman

September 2011 | Media Article

The National Association of Valuers and Auctioneers (NAVA) Committee recently determined that their members should make access to independent redress available to their clients and buyers where unresolved disputes come about. My jurisdiction also covers this sector.

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UK takes lead in European Estate Agency Redress

22 September 2011 | Press Release

The Property Ombudsman Scheme in the UK is now being regarded as a model example of independent dispute resolution in estate agency by potential counterparts in continental Europe.

The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, explains in his latest report how he was invited to address the European Real Estate Congress in Berlin by the Immobillienverband Deutschland (IVD), the German equivalent of the National Association of Estate Agents, and is now actively assisting those wishing to set up similar schemes in other countries.

'There were many expressions of interest in the UK model and the concept. I explained that by following the standards laid down in the Codes of Practice, by giving feedback to agents on the issues that arise, and generally through promoting best practice the TPO had contributed towards an improvement in estate agency standards,' says Mr. Hamer in his second interim report for 2011.

'I hope I was able to show how the estate agency sector in the UK, through supporting the TPO, is well advanced in taking customer service seriously and in adhering to standards of business operation. Now we have met, the various Ombudsmen at the Congress have committed to liaising on important matters and assisting other countries to introduce such schemes.'

Figures in this report show that since the start of January, 2011, the number of lettings cases referred to Mr. Hamer continues are 25 per cent above the equivalent period last year. By contrast, sales referrals are slowing and account for only 43 per cent of TPO's workload, contrasting with 2010 where the split was 49 per cent sales, 51 per cent lettings.

During the period of the report, TPO received 1,572 enquiries regarding property sales, a decrease of 14 per cent compared with the same period in 2010 while lettings enquiries showed a decline of 15 per cent (2,724 in 2011 compared with 3214 in 2010).

These falls come despite a rise in the number of agency branches covered for both sales (11,225 in 2010, 11,505 in 2011) and lettings (7,669 in 2010, 8,431 in 2011).

End

Notes for editors:

TPO had 8,185 member firms at the end of August, 2011, operating 11,503 residential sales and 8,431 residential lettings offices. TPO also provides redress for 108 commercial agency offices, 50 dealing with international sales, and 155 auctions selling chattels.

Enquiries figures for this and the previous three report periods:

01.05.10 to 31.08.10 01.09.10 to 31.12.10 01.01.11 to 30.04.11 01.05.11 to 31.08.11
Total 5774 3867 4140 4914
Sales 1831 1156 1196 1572
Lettings 3214 2024 2418 2724
General 428 374 288 449
Insufficient Information 301 313 238 169

New cases for this and the previous three report periods:

01.05.10 to 31.08.10 01.09.10 to 31.12.10 01.01.11 to 30.04.11 01.05.11 to 31.08.11
Total 425 448 448 472
Sales 221 200 190 197
Lettings 204 248 258 275

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case. Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220.

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Auctioneers have discretion but must not discriminate, says Christopher Hamer The Property Ombudsman

September 2011 | Media Article

The National Association of Valuers and Auctioneers (NAVA) Committee recently determined that their members should make access to independent redress available to their clients and buyers where unresolved disputes come about. My jurisdiction also covers this sector.

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Property Ombudsman scheme renews plea to OFT for action over estate agent

02 August 2011 | Press Release

A renewed request is being made to the Office of Fair Trading to consider action against a West Midlands estate agent.

Last Friday, The Property Ombudsman scheme disclosed that West Bromwich estate agency wli.uk.com, which has six branches in Birmingham, had been expelled from voluntary membership of the organisation, which settles disputes between estate agents and consumers.

By yesterday, the estate agency's website was displaying a thinly disguised obscenity referring to TPOS which was brought to the organisation's attention. This has now been referred to OFT.

'We are obliged to continue with basic registration of wli.uk.com under the terms of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act while the OFT considers our request that the agency should be banned from the industry,' said TPOS deputy chairman Gerry Fitzjohn.

'However, the statement on the wli.uk.com home page shows that the company and its director, Amerjit Singh Dhuga, have little respect for us and we really don't want them associated with us in any way at all.

'The TPO disciplinary and standards committee voted to expel the agency from our scheme after Mr. Dhuga admitted three charges of fraud, among 26 offences, when he appeared before Warley magistrates in January. The fines and costs imposed on him totalled £6,537 and among his offences was misrepresenting that he was a member of TPOS and falsely using the OFT logo alongside it.

'Mr Dhuga obviously recognised the value of the TPOS and OFT logos in convincing consumers he applied high standards in business but the website home page's obscenity shows his true opinion.

'I have many years' experience in estate agency and I, along with many high ranking colleagues in the industry, believe there is no place for people who display behaviour such as that shown by Mr. Dhuga.

'We must allow wli.uk.com to retain CEARA registration for its sales activities until such time as the OFT reaches a decision on whether Mr Dugha should be banned from acting as an estate agent. The convictions will not be spent for five years and the expulsion will not be rescinded within that period but I hope the OFT will now take swift action to remove Mr. Dhuga and his business from estate agency.

'Consumers deserve far higher standards than he is ready to display.'

End

Notes to editors

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to consumers who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish. Over the 21 years the scheme has been running only handful of complainants have rejected the Ombudsman's decision and taken their dispute elsewhere.

Unlike residential sales agents, lettings agents are not required by the Consumers, Estate Agent and Redress Act, which came into effect on October 1, 2008, to have a redress scheme in place, so joining TPO remains entirely voluntary. It is unclear exactly how many lettings agents operate in the UK, but the likely figure is around 12,000.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

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Trivial complaints damage business, says Christopher Hamer The Property Ombudsman

August 2011 | Media Article

There are some cases reaching my office that give cause for concern because they appear to have escalated unnecessarily.

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Property Ombudsman's major advances for consumers using letting agents

01 August 2011 | Press Release

Two major advances in consumer protection in the lettings industry come into effect today (August 1).

As The Property Ombudsman scheme (TPO) launches its strengthened Code of Practice for member lettings agents, the revised Code will also complete Stage One of the Office of Fair Trading Consumer Codes Approval Scheme.

The scheme has two stages and over the coming months TPO is required to demonstrate to the Office of Fair Trading that its members are complying with the code in order to gain Stage Two and final approval. When this occurs it will mean that both the TPO sales and lettings codes will have full OFT approval and lettings members will also be able to use the OFT logo.

Negotiations with OFT have largely been conducted by Bill McClintock, chairman of the TPO operating company.

'The OFT scheme is recognised by consumers as being totally independent of the industry, a unique feature that no other body for lettings membership can offer,' explained Mr. McClintock.

'This is an important step forward for lettings agents but especially for the landlords and tenants who use them.

'Under our revised Code coming into effect on August 1, all lettings agents will need to have separate client money accounts and all our members are obliged to have professional indemnity insurance.

'Now that we have completed Stage One, lettings agents will undergo the same random monitoring we already apply to residential sales agents, which not only ensures higher standards for consumers but also points out to member agents precisely what they need to do to improve the service they offer. Consumers will be able to give feedback directly to TPO about their level of satisfaction.

'Agents cannot influence the outcome of these surveys because if there are any results pointing to exemplary or very poor service we then mystery shop the agents to make our own assessment.

'Enforcement of our Code of Practice for sales agents has resulted in a reduction of the seriousness of complaints brought to the Ombudsman.'

TPO now has 8,130 member residential lettings offices, all of them joining the scheme since redress for lettings agents was launched in 2006.

'Landlords and tenants who want to ensure their lettings agent offers the highest standards with a system in place for independent settling of disputes should look for the green TPO logo displayed by member lettings agents as the mark of distinction,' concluded Mr. McClintock.

End

Notes to editors

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to consumers who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish. Over the 21 years the scheme has been running only handful of complainants have rejected the Ombudsman's decision and taken their dispute elsewhere.

Unlike residential sales agents, lettings agents are not required by the Consumers, Estate Agent and Redress Act, which came into effect on October 1, 2008, to have a redress scheme in place, so joining TPO remains entirely voluntary. It is unclear exactly how many lettings agents operate in the UK, but the likely figure is around 12,000.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

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Property Ombudsman Scheme expels agent who admitted frauds

29 July 2011 | Press Release

An estate agent with three convictions for fraud has been expelled from voluntary membership of The Property Ombudsman scheme.

In January, Amerjit Singh Dhuga, the owner of wli.uk.com, was fined £3,120, with £3,417 costs, for 26 offences that included fraudulent use of the TPO and OFT logos on the website of his agency, based at 101, High Street, West Bromwich.

At the time, the Property Ombudsman scheme chairman, Bill McClintock, said TPO would approach the Office of Fair Trading with a view to having Mr. Dhuga banned from working as an estate agent and warned the firm could be expelled from TPO.

The TPO Disciplinary and Standards Committee has now informed Mr Dhuga that his membership has been withdrawn because of his fraud convictions.

Sandwell Council's Trading Standards Department had started investigating wli.uk.com in January, 2010, and Mr. Dhuga's TPO membership application was received in late April 2010. Mr. Dhuga pleaded guilty in January 2011and did not appeal the sentence.

'Sandwell could not disclose the date when it had first advised wliuk.com that it was acting illegally in using our logo,' said Gerry Fitzjohn, deputy chairman of the TPO operating company who attends DSC meetings.

'As a result, the DSC could not expel wliuk.com on the basis that it had breached an undertaking on its application form with regard to any Trading Standards Office or any other regulatory body taking, or considering whether to take, disciplinary action against the named applicant or any members of his staff.

'The DSC, in making the decision to expel, had to rely upon the fact that the proprietor of this member agent has multiple convictions, including three for fraud and we could not have persons with such convictions within membership.

'We declined to offer the opportunity to make representations to the DSC, or to appeal to the TPO council, because our decision relied upon the fact of the convictions for which he entered a guilty plea.

'We have allowed wliuk.com to retain CEARA registration for its sales activities until such time as the OFT reaches a decision on whether Mr Dugha should be banned from acting as an estate agent. The convictions will not be spent for five years and the expulsion will not be rescinded within that period.

'We are publicising this expulsion as Mr Dugha tries to put a positive spin on any bad press reports and it is important that we make a positive statement that this agency is no longer a member of the voluntary scheme.

'To do otherwise could have unfavourable consequences for the integrity of the scheme and for consumers using Mr Dhuga's agency, particularly landlords and tenants who will no longer have any source of redress over unresolved lettings complaints involving wli.uk.com.'

End

Notes to editors

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to consumers who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish. Over the 21 years the scheme has been running only handful of complainants have rejected the Ombudsman's decision and taken their dispute elsewhere.

Unlike residential sales agents, lettings agents are not required by the Consumers, Estate Agent and Redress Act, which came into effect on October 1, 2008, to have a redress scheme in place, so joining TPO remains entirely voluntary. It is unclear exactly how many lettings agents operate in the UK, but the likely figure is around 12,000.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

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Imperfect response sees TPO expel estate agent

08 July 2011 | Press Release

Buckinghamshire estate agency Purfect Properties has been expelled by The Property Ombudsman scheme.

The estate agency, operating from offices in Temple Street, Aylesbury, had been a voluntary member of TPO for both sales and lettings. But following a decision by the TPO Disciplinary and Standards Committee, the firm now only has the minimal registration necessary under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 (CEARA).

Gerry Fitzjohn, deputy chairman of the TPO operating company which is responsible for implementing DSC decisions, said it was not possible to avoid registering Purfect Properties under CEARA because the problems that had come to light were not serious enough to ask the Office of Fair Trading to ban the company from estate agency work but that that very high standards were required of full members of TPO.

'What we are now doing is monitoring this firm's activities very closely for at least the next 12 months to ensure it meets the standards expected,' he explained.

'We have informed other trade bodies and the OFT of our decision and the Ombudsman will still be able to investigate complaints brought against Purfect Properties for residential sales matters after the expulsion.

'It is disappointing to have to take this action, but Purfect Properties did not respond when complaints had been made and, although it had paid restitution for a separate lettings complaint when required to do so by the Ombudsman, it had failed to respond when a similar request was made following a sales complaint.

'The firm has also failed to cooperate with our monitoring process. It's unsatisfactory to have to expel a member agent from our voluntary scheme and allow them to retain CEARA registration but there is nothing else we can do.'

Ends

Notes for editors:

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. OEA, now TPO, was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

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New TPO codes bring greater protection

July 2011 | Media Article

The Property Ombudsman scheme is introducing new Codes of Practice for member agents from August 1.

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In Conversation with: Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer

July 2011 | Media Article

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New TPO Codes bring greater protection

13 June 2011 | Press Release

The Property Ombudsman scheme is introducing new Codes of Practice for member agents from August 1.

There is also supplementary guidance on the practice known as 'touting' or canvassing for business, an area which has been drawing some complaints about the behaviour of rival agents, as well as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and the drawing up of agency agreements.

The Codes of Practice, covering residential sales and lettings activities, have been pending for some time while awaiting approval from the Office of Fair Trading. Among the major changes is the need for member agents to have separately designated client money accounts to protect money they receive.

'We were delayed because we were waiting for OFT approval for the Sales Code revisions and were hoping to have the Lettings Code included under the OFT's Consumer Codes Approval Scheme,' explained Bill McClintock, chairman of the TPO operating company, who oversees membership matters.

'But in the end we decided we could not wait any longer as the Codes are intended to improve levels of service and remove confusion for member agents that may arise through recent legislative changes.

'I have been pressing the OFT for almost three years in the case of the Lettings Code approval and for many months for the Sales Code improvements but so far without success.

'Regular meetings with member agents and other industry bodies mean I am familiar with issues that need to be addressed. I am sure the revised Codes will be of great help.'

The new Codes are being issued along with guidance notes that were first given to member agents last October to enable them to improve their practices.

But until August 1, agents will be governed by the existing Codes and these will apply to all cases reported to the Ombudsman that arise from agents' actions before that date.

The guidance does not set out specific terms for agency agreements or say what type of agreements should be entered into. Rather, the emphasis is on clarity when dealing with consumers.

The new Codes of Practice and the guidance notes can be viewed and downloaded from the TPO website members' section.

End

Notes for editors:

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

TPO currently has 8,179 member firms operating 11,503 sales, 8,195 lettings, 216 commercial, and 31 international offices.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

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The Property Ombudsman on Redress

June 2011 | Media Article

My role as The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is to provide an independent facility for resolving disputes between firms which are registered with the scheme and buyers, sellers, landlords, leaseholders, lessees and tenants of property in the UK.

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Property Ombudsman to issue updated Codes of Practice

17 May 2011 | Press Release

Updated versions of the TPO Codes of Practice are being issued by The Property Ombudsman, coming into effect on August 1, 2011.

The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, says in his latest interim report that the Codes have been prepared for some time but the delay in issuing them has been because formal approval for the revisions has been awaited from the OFT.

Whilst still awaiting formal approval, the Ombudsman has decided to press ahead without further delay and implement the Codes.

Mr. Hamer says he has also drafted three sets of supplementary guidance notes to assist agents in understanding what is required of them following the changes, many of which reflect developments in legislation (for example Cancellation Regulations and EPCs) while others are in relation to canvassing for new business and using sub agencies.

The report also includes, in summary form, examples of cases considered and resolved by Mr. Hamer's office 'These relate to common issues referred to me and it will be noted that several examples display poor handling of complaints. This is a regular annoyance and aggravation for complainants and agents should ensure that they are familiar with the requirements of the Code of Practice in relation to timescales and keeping complainants informed,' he adds.

'My office has issued a guide to internal complaints handling which is available on our website and advises on the approach which agents should take.'

The interim report and guide to complaints handling can be downloaded from www.tpos.co.uk.

Figures in the report show a slight rise in enquiries from the public during the first four months of this year compared with the last four months of 2010, although the number is lower than the average equivalent period for 2010.

Lettings agents continue to generate the highest number of enquiries, with 2,418 during the first four months of this year, just slightly down on the average equivalent period for 2010.

Sales enquiries are beginning to slow compared with 2010 data.

End

Notes for editors:

TPO had 8,159 member firms at the end of April, 2011, operating 11,489 residential sales and 8142 residential lettings offices.

Enquiries figures for this and the previous three report periods:

01.01.10
to 30.04.10
05.05.10
to 31.08.10
01.09.10
to 31.12.10
01.01.11
to 30.04.11
Total 4361 5774 3867 4140
Sales 1412 1831 1156 1196
Lettings 2118 3214 2024 2418
General 514 428 374 288
Insufficient Information 317 301 313 238

New cases for this and the previous three report periods:

01.01.10
to 30.04.10
05.05.10
to 31.08.10
01.09.10
to 31.12.10
01.01.11
to 30.04.11
Total 445 425 448 448
Sales 225 221 200 190
Lettings 220 204 248 258

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT. For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220.

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The pre-contract predicament

May 2011 | Media Article

Many agents are using pre-contract agreements, but how do they work? Christopher Hamer explains.

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The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, says gas safety checks are vital to protect tenants

April 2011 | Media Article

'A full management contract should specify all the landlord and agent's responsibilities.'

Read more

Distance selling regulations and how they apply to agency deals

April 2011 | Media Article

Distance selling regulations could impact agents, particularly lettings agents in the event that a tenant does not see a property before moving in.

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Property Ombudsman backs Which? advice - but TPO Members are under more scrutiny

31 March 2011 | Press Release

The advice in the Which? report on estate agents issued today is broadly endorsed by The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer.

'All consumers should be aware of the terms and conditions, particularly the fees to be paid, when they engage an estate agent to sell their property,' explained Mr. Hamer.

'I do not make rules about how agents should set their commission fees and they are free to use either a set fee for their service or a stated percentage of the selling price.

'Agents need to make sure the fee method chosen is made plain in their contract terms and that there are no small print clauses that could give rise to confusion. Where consumers have brought complaints to me about confusing or unexplained terms and conditions which I then agree to be so, I have made an award in consumers' favour.'

Mr. Hamer said there was also an important difference between agents signed up under the terms of the Consumers, Estate Agents, and Redress Act (CEARA) and those who have voluntarily signed up for TPO membership that makes them subject to the terms of the TPO Sales Code of Conduct. This had perhaps given rise to the confusion mentioned in the Which? report.

'The Code of Conduct is a rigorous set of conditions that have been approved by the Office of Fair Trading under its Consumer Codes Approval Scheme and goes far beyond the minimum standards for redress registration brought about by CEARA,' he added.

'Full sales members of TPO, for instance, are subject to random monitoring via consumer surveys which flag up potential problems that can then be addressed. I also meet regularly with member agents to discuss industry issues and I believe the dialogue, combined with adherence to the Code of Practice, demonstrably leads to higher standards.

'In my recent 2010 annual report, I indicated that the average amount paid to settle complaints had roughly halved for each case in which I made an award since 2007, an indication, I believe, that standards are improving.'

At present, TPO has 8,095 member firms. Of these, only firms operating a total of 330 branches are registered for the minimum requirements of CEARA while 11,073 branches are registered with firms voluntarily subject to the TPO Sales Code of Practice.

End

Notes for Editors

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

Read more

Protect landlords and tenants from rogue letting agents

16 March 2011 | Press Release

Property Ombudsman in fresh plea for law change.

The government has made it clear that it will not introduce any new laws that could lead to better protection for landlords and tenants from those agents who fail to treat consumers fairly and who potentially can put consumer money at risk.

He has seen the number of lettings offices voluntarily covered by his scheme climb to almost 8,000 by the end of 2010 but is concerned that agents who do not sign up to and adhere by the standards in the TPO Code of Practice can continue to operate, potentially to customer detriment.

'Many agents conduct their business by following the TPO Code of Practice but there are still too many who are operating without that commitment to standards and without any external controls over what they do with client money,' says Mr. Hamer.

'The Code of Practice represents a comprehensive set of standards by which firms conduct their business. Knowing a firm is complying with those standards will give consumers confidence that they are dealing with an organisation which has a committed approach to customer service and that best practice is being treated as a priority by agents,' he adds. 'I had hoped to gain accreditation from the OFT to further strengthen consumer confidence in the Code but I am disappointed that having submitted it to the OFT some three years ago I remain unclear as to when that endorsement will be given.'

From this summer, the TPO Lettings Code of Practice will include a requirement for lettings agencies to hold a separately designated client account to protect money the agencies receive.

Currently there is no compulsion for letting agents to join an Ombudsman scheme and Mr. Hamer notes that this is inconsistent with the obligations on estate agents who market property for sale.

Industry support for regulation

'Whilst the Code of Practice is not intended to be a substitute for formal regulation it would at least mean all letting agents would be following a comprehensive set of standards designed to protect the consumer. Consumers should therefore look to use an agent that displays the TPO logo that means they are committed to operating fairly.'

Mr Hamer believes that there is general support from within the industry for some form of regulation of letting agents and to see all agents taking a secure approach to the protection of client money with insurance to ensure clients are covered if the business fails or money is misappropriated.

'There can be no excuse for client money not being held in separate and properly audited client accounts such that it is less easy for unscrupulous agents to misappropriate it. Furthermore, there needs to be an obligation that such monies are protected by suitable client money insurance. An appropriate regulatory regime could ensure that the necessary separation of client and business money is enforced.'

'An agent who uses client money because they are operating on the edge of viability and needs to bolster the business, or more worrying still is using the money for personal enjoyment, is entirely unacceptable and against the law.'

Mr. Hamer pledges he will continue to campaign with the industry for higher standards. He believes these are being achieved in the residential sales sector, although complaints against sales agents still remain unacceptably high.

Room for improvement

'The sales sector has room for still greater improvement, of course, but the growing impact of the TPO Code of Practice is further borne out by my average award to compensate complainants for the agent's actions for sales in 2010 being £258 when in 2007 it was £547, an indicator that the gravity of complaints is diminished.'

Mr. Hamer says the number of cases relating to sales and lettings referred to TPO was 40 per cent ahead of his forecast for 2010 and despite a significantly reduced number of housing transactions the excess has been purely down to the number of sales disputes received.

There were 1,338 new referrals, 646 sales and 672 lettings with the remainder related to HIPs and Residential Leasehold Management the highest ever recorded in the 20 years of the scheme's existence and 28 per cent above the previous peak in 2008 of 1,043. They arose from a total of 11,794 enquires, compared with 11,165 during 2009 and 11,201 during 2008.

The largest single cause of complaint was communication failure between the agent and consumer (214) followed by complaints handling by agents (163) and sales details / advertising / marketing (138).

South East England was the source of most complaints (26 per cent), followed by south West England (13 per cent) and the eastern region (12 per cent). Wales generated only 3 per cent of the total, a figure matched by Northern Ireland and Scotland combined.

At the end of 2010, TPO had 8,008 member firms operating 11,321 sales and 7,851 lettings offices. This compares with 7,332 member firms operating 10,577 sales and 7,276 lettings offices at the end of 2009 and 6,322 member firms with 11,215 sales and 5,100 lettings offices at the end of 2008.

End

Notes for Editors

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

Read more

Lettings firms expelled by Property Ombudsman

08 March 2011 | Press Release

Two lettings firms, one in London and the other in Torbay, have been expelled by The Property Ombudsman scheme.

Madisons of 7, Odeon Parade, 468, London Road, Isleworth, was expelled for failing to pass on rent it had collected and for mishandling tenants' deposits.

However TPO is required under the terms of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007, to maintain Madisons' registration for sales activities.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council considered a number of complaints where Madisons collected rent and did not pass it on.

When the matter was referred to the Ombudsman he determined that the rent should be paid over to the landlords, and that compensation be paid for breaches of the TPO Code of Practice for Letting Agents in the firm's general failing to provide a service consistent with fairness, integrity and best practice. In one case, although the rents have now been paid, the compensatory award made by the Ombudsman has not been met.

'This has been a sorry and frustrating business for both Madisons' clients and TPO,' said Gerry Fitzjohn, vice chairman of the company operating TPO.

'It concerns us that while we can expel their lettings business from the scheme we have no option but to continue registration for their sales business until the Office of Fair Trading bans the agent.

'In the meantime, it is our duty to make the public aware of the situation regarding Madisons.'

The second firm to be expelled is Torbay Residential Lettings (TRL), of 49 Market Street, Torquay.

The firm had breached several aspects of the TPO Code of Practice for letting agents by not co-operating with the Ombudsman's investigation, not paying the award made by the Ombudsman after he had found the firm had not registered the tenants' deposit, failing to complete a proper check-out process, and failing to provide an appropriate form of tenancy agreement.

The Disciplinary Standards Committee (DSC) of the TPO Council, in deciding to expel TRL also noted that one of the directors of the firm had been jailed for three years in January, 2010, for child cruelty and perverting the course of justice.

The remaining director considered that the dispute being decided upon by the Ombudsman was not the firm's responsibility because the complaint arose from the actions of the jailed director. The DSC took the view that this was not relevant and the firm was liable to meet its obligations as a TPO member.

'Such behaviour is unacceptable,' said Gerry Fitzjohn. 'Our scheme's primary purpose is to resolve disputes between agents and consumers but we also aim to raise professionalism and insist on certain levels of service. Where these are not met, we make it clear that an agent is no longer fit for membership and recommend the public take notice of this.'

End

Notes for Editors

The Property Ombudsman scheme (www.tpos.co.uk) offers a free, independent, and impartial service to members of the public who are dissatisfied with the service provided by an estate agent who is a member of the scheme during the buying, selling, or letting of a residential property. The Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, can recommend member agents pay compensation of up to £25,000 in any one case.

Any decision made by the Ombudsman is binding on member agents but not on complainants, who are free to reject the Ombudsman's decision and pursue the matter in the courts if they wish.

The Ombudsman scheme was founded in 1990 as the Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents. In 1998, it broadened its scope to make it available to all residential estate agents, becoming the Ombudsman for Estate Agents and, from May, 2009, The Property Ombudsman. From June 2006, the OEA extended its services to Lettings and Property Management agents. Recent expansion has also seen its redress scheme extended to some UK commercial property transactions and foreign property purchases in the UK. It now also embraces residential management agents, referencing firms, and chattels auctions.

With effect from 1 October 2008, all UK estate agents engaged in residential property sales are required under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act (CEARA) to register with an Estate Agents Redress Scheme that has been approved by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and which investigates complaints against estate agents. TPO OEA was the first scheme approved by the OFT.

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR on 01264 771661 / 07831 272220

Read more

The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, examines the implications of the Bribery Act 2010

March 2011 | Media Article

In April the Bribery Act 2010 will come into force. The TPO has been carefully considering any possible implications that the Act will have on current working practices, within this office and for member agents.

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TPO seeking OFT help to ban two estate agents

01 February 2011 | Press Release

The Property Ombudsman scheme has approached the Office of Fair Trading about the behaviour of two estate agencies, one of which was fined £3,120 last week for 26 offences, including displaying TPO logos when it was not a member and for other breaches of consumer protection law.

Bill McClintock, chairman of the TPO operating company, says wli.uk.com from the West Midlands could be expelled from voluntary membership of TPO's residential sales and lettings codes because Amerjit Singh Dhuga, the firm's owner, is in breach of the organisation's terms and conditions.

A second, West Country, agency where the directors have convictions for aiding and abetting a fraud has also applied for voluntary and statutory membership for sales but this process has not been completed because of the conviction, although the agency apparently continues to trade.

'The TPO Disciplinary and Standards Committee is looking at both agencies and will come to a decision shortly,' he explained.

'I cannot pre-empt what the committee will decide but the expulsion of wli.uk.com is likely to occur, subject to any appeals process. We asked for guidance from the OFT regarding the West Country agency in mid November and are still awaiting an answer regarding its statutory registration.

'Our difficulty is that we are bound to accept agents into registration for residential sales under the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 until they have been banned from estate agency by the OFT. When, and if, that process takes place, they can be denied TPO registration completely.

'The Ombudsman has a memorandum of understanding with the OFT that he will refer to them estate agents whose actions we have called into question and / or expelled from our voluntary schemes. We have done this in the past.

'We have to study the applications that were made for membership of our schemes by these two firms and the answers that were given to some of the questions.

'Nobody at TPO wants to see firms that have had their practices called into question by the courts continue with TPO membership but the process has to be fair and open.

'It is important for the public and the industry to know the outcome and when these matters have been resolved I will issue a further statement.'

End

For more information, contact Maurice Hardy at Ultimate PR
Phone: 01264 771661 / 07831 272220
Email: maurice.hardy@ultimatepr.co.uk

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Kerb your enthusiasm. Christopher Hamer, The Property Ombudsman says that parking can become a big issue.

January 2011 | Media Article

Over the years a number of complaints have been referred concerning disputes over allegedly incorrect information provided by agents about the parking provisions at a property.

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See also: Older Press Releases | Older Media Articles