‘More level playing field’

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Is it true that estate agents have to belong to an ombudsman scheme, but lettings agents don’t? And if so, why?

You’re right. In October 2008, it was made compulsory for all estate agents to register with an officially authorised ombudsman scheme – but lettings and property management agents were indeed (if you’ll pardon the pun) let off.

Precisely why this anomaly was created in the first place was never adequately explained by the powers-that-be, and indeed most responsible bodies within the industry have been calling for it to be removed ever since.

After all, why should buyers and sellers enjoy access to a free, fair and independent complaints-handling system, but not landlords and tenants?

Still, the good news is that all this is, finally, about to change…Up till now, while accepting the principle of a compulsory redress scheme for the lettings and property management sector, and stipulating that any such scheme must be impartial, easily accessible and free for complainants, the government has nevertheless rather dragged its feet as far as actual implementation is concerned. The uncertainty is finally over. It has just been announced that the new compulsory ombudsman regime for the lettings sector will begin on October 1. If any firm is subsequently found not to be registered with one of the three official schemes, it will be liable for a fine of up to £5,000.

The government has also stipulated that full data about complaints received and dealt with must be published in the annual reports of the three schemes involved – the Property Redress Scheme, Ombudsman Services Property and The Property Ombudsman.

The aim of this move is to provide a service of impartial dispute resolution when complaints are raised about letting or management agents – complaints which in the eyes of the person doing the complaining have not been dealt with satisfactorily by the firm concerned. What this means in practice is that as with existing schemes covering sales agents, you won’t just be able to take your beef straight to the ombudsman, without first having exhausted the firm’s own internal complaints handling procedures. So, a rather more level playing field for landlords and tenants. And not before time.