And how exactly they can protect you as a customer
If you’ve been looking at property sites, such as our own, you might see a dark blue logo with a white triangle and the words “The Property Ombudsman”, but what does that mean? It should mean they are members of an Ombudsman that offers a free, impartial and independent dispute resolution service, but you should always check they are actually members but we’ll touch more on that later.
If you want to find out everything about The Property Ombudsman and how they protect you as a consumer when using a sell house fast service, you can navigate to the particular section of interest below:
Since 1990, The Property Ombudsman scheme has been providing consumers and property agents with a dispute resolution service that is designed to achieve a full and final settlement for claims made by either of the parties.
The Property Ombudsman, or TPO for short, is a not for profit organisation that contains a board of 9 non-executive directors which is inclusive of an independent chair. It’s a government-approved scheme put in place to redress disputes between property agents and consumers but it is not a regulator which means it doesn’t have the authority to take legal action or impose fines, however, they do provide compensation awards.
The TPO is also a full member of the Ombudsman Association adopting its Service Standards Framework which is the basis for the codes of practice. They are also approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, under ADR Regulations 2015.
The TPO covers codes of practice across a variety of different property companies including residential letting agents, residential estate agents, commercial & business agents, as well as the likes of ourselves which falls under the code of practice for residential property buying companies.
The codes of practice themselves are broken down into a few sub-sections, and we’ll highlight a few of the main points under each section, condensing some of the information:
As a member, you need to comply with the codes of practice and relevant laws.
You also need to ensure all staff are fully aware of all aspects of the code and their responsibilities.
The service provided should be consistent with best practices, integrity and fairness. You should not be deceitful, dishonest, manipulative and involve any misrepresentation.
Customers must be treated equally.
If you are dealing with a customer who may be at a disadvantage, then you should take special care.
Confidential information should not be released for any purpose other than the consumer's given intention.
You need to keep full and written records of transactions for 6 years.
You must not bring the scheme into disrepute.
Suitable information must be offered to meet the client’s needs and aims.
Everyone involved in the transaction must be treated fairly and courteously.
Avoid any conflict of interest at the earliest possible opportunity.
You must disclose any relationship you have with any arrangements made or recommendations for surveying, financials, conveyancing, other services or investment insurance.
The requirements of a consumer are key.
The client should disclose anything that will affect the value or saleability of the property.
When seeking new business, you must not use unfair methods.
Fees must be shown inclusive of VAT.
Independent of your competitors you must make decisions on how you advertise your fees, costs, offers and other offerings.
You need to explain fully to the client the valuation, offer and the process in which you will use to purchase the property.
Do not mislead the customer on the type of service that you provide.
Do not mislead the customer on the timescales for the sale process, giving any unrealistic timescales.
You also must not mislead on the price you are prepared to pay, how you will pay for it, how the property will be valued or train staff to use any techniques to pressurise sellers.
Do not directly or indirectly harass any person to gain agreement to sell.
If a customer asks you to stop canvassing them, you must act promptly.
At the point of offer, you need to inform the client you are a member of the TPO.
You must comply with Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008) and valuations must be conducted in a property and fair manner.
Never misrepresent the value of a property.
The client must be given written confirmation of any offer or amended offer.
Do not mislead the status of the offer, such as if it’s subject to a valuation.
Any extra fees, restrictions, liabilities and charges should be confirmed in writing.
If there is a need to amend the arrangements you must promptly make the seller aware and confirm in writing.
Do not reduce the offer price late in the process without having a valid reason.
Terms of business must not only comply with this code of practice, but also the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Terms of business should be in plain English.
Records of all offers should be kept.
You must not transfer any purchase to a third party without using a client's permission.
You must explain to any sellers that they are completely free to use their own professional advisors.
You are obliged to keep parties involved in the progress of the sale.
You must try and do everything in your power to reach the client's favoured sale dates.
The purchase funds need to be in place with the solicitor before the agreed completion date.
In the terms of business, it must detail all fees and additional costs.
If you are intending to charge the client a fee for termination of sale, you must make this clear.
If you are using a tie in agreement, all the information of this and costs should be explained clearly to the client.
You must maintain and operate an in-house complaints procedure.
If there is an appointed representative for a complaint, you must agree to deal with them.
Within 3 working days, you must acknowledge any written complaints.
You must inform any complainant who remains dissatisfied after the process, how to pursue the complaint further.
Following any conclusion of the complaint, you must state your final view and any offer made in writing to the complainant.
You must co-operate with any investigation by the Ombudsman.
Comply with any award or direction made by the Ombudsman, and you must pay the complainant the amount of any such award.
The complaints committee (CC) will determine any disciplinary sanction in accordance with the terms.
Any requirements in the code compliance monitoring must be complied with.
Customers must be informed that their details may be used in the survey/monitoring process, this is to ensure compliance with GDPR.
You have a lot more protection than someone who isn’t a member, yes.
The Property Ombudsman themselves can’t force their members to pay fines, but they can order disciplinary sanctions and even remove their members, and being removed by a trusted Ombudsman would do considerable harm to the brand's reputation and customers' willingness to work with them in the future.
The codes of practice that a member of The Property Ombudsman has to follow ensures that you as a customer are treated fairly and equally throughout the process. As we mentioned, it also offers an independent form of redress, which is impartial – all of which you wouldn’t get for someone who isn’t a member of the Ombudsman.
All that being said, we recommend highly that you do business with someone who is a member of the Ombudsman if you’re looking to sell your property.
You may be dealing with a company that displays the blue TPO logo across their website, but if you have concerns as to whether they are actually members you should always double-check.
The Property Ombudsman have a “Find a TPO Member” tool on their website, which lists all the active members of the Ombudsman. If the company you are dealing with displays the logo but doesn’t appear in the search, then you should speak to the Ombudsman so they can take action on the unscrupulous company.
Before making a complaint with The Property Ombudsman themselves, you should speak directly and complain to the agent themselves as part of the codes of practice encompasses an in-house complaints procedure, as you can see in the part of our breakdown.
The Ombudsman allows the agent to try and come to a resolution themselves, giving them a fair and reasonable chance of doing so. If you are still unhappy after they have offered a resolution then you can take it further to the Ombudsman and the agent should make clear how you can do that.
When The Property Ombudsman gets a complaint, they will notify the company and give them 21 days to submit their version of events. After that, they will allocate the case and the Ombudsman will arrive at a decision by taking into account the codes of practice, legal principles and what is fair and reasonable.
The final decision will then be made by the Ombudsman and it will include all the details of the findings and award, if and where appropriate.
Once a decision has been reached by the TPO they will send this to you the customer, and the agent, at the same time. There is then a 14 day period in which you can either accept or represent against the decision.
If you choose the latter, it will typically only affect the decision if you are able to prove there has been a significant mistake, or there is new evidence. If the agent, in turn, doesn’t respond to the decision, it’s assumed that they accept.
If The Property Ombudsman supports the complaint, then they can take action to put things right. This can be anything from a formal apology to £25,000 in compensation. They do make a point however saying that awards over £500 are not awarded very often, as usually it only goes over when there is absolutely no doubt that an agent has caused you to have a significant financial loss.
They stress that they can not make agents pay penalties or take any legal action against them, but they can be reported to the compliance committee will take further action.
If you do not agree on the decision you can look to pursue the complaint via court, or another organisation. Accepting the decision will become binding on the business and in full settlement of the dispute, the TPO will then let the agent know who will pay within 28 days, usually by bank transfer or cheque.
If the agent is late making the payment, the TPO will remind them, and if they still haven’t paid they will inform them that we will be reporting them to the Compliance Committee.
That’s completely up to you, The Property Ombudsman just offers you a layer of protection that you otherwise wouldn’t have. If a company you are dealing with is a member of The Property Ombudsman, they have to abide by the codes of practice that we’ve highlighted and if not you can complain.
Although as we’ve mentioned they can’t impose fines, it’s a big trust indicator for cash house buying companies like ourselves that they will not want to lose as it is indicative of a professional service.