The Government plans announced by the Housing Minister Kris Hopkins in April 2014 have approved three compulsory redress schemes to act as independent investigators and handle complaints in the lettings sector reports Andrew Oulsnam of Robert Oulsnam and Company.
The three schemes are The Property Ombudsman, Ombudsman Property Services, and The Property Redress Scheme. The schemes will offer a clear route for tenants seeking an independent investigative ombudsman for arbitration and dispute settlement.
All letting and property management agents in the UK must now join one of the three approved redress schemes. The thinking behind the measures is to provide tenants and leaseholders with stronger and more robust protection against the activities of unscrupulous agents and landlords who attempt to levy hidden or extra charges, or provide poor and sub-standard services.
The measures are part of an ongoing government review into letting and tenant protection. Other proposed measures include a ‘Help to Rent’ guide detailing rights of tenants and what they can expect from landlords, model tenancy agreements to ensure stable and secure lettings over longer periods such as three years, and guidelines for councils on how to tackle rogue landlords and illegal evictions.
At a time when wages are not rising and more people are locked out of home-ownership owing to prohibitive house prices, the government is increasingly trying to be seen to be on the side of renters.
It is believed that most letting agents in the UK are already signed up with one of the three approved redress schemes, with around 3000 agencies, or 40 per cent of the lettings industry still to sign up with one of the three bodies.
Of the three redress schemes, the best known is The Property Ombudsman, Christopher Hamer. The Ombudsman was known as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents until 2009, and has jurisdiction over lettings cases which have been referred by either a tenant or landlord who has signed up to adhere to the Property Ombudsman Code of Practice for Letting Agents.
Figures released by The Property Ombudsman reveal that there was a significant rise in the number of tenants making complaints and bringing disputes to him during 2013. Overall the Ombudsman received 16,957 complaints, of which the vast majority – 10,179 – involved lettings disputes. In 2012 there were 15,782 complaints of which 8,334 involved letting. The Ombudsman attributes the rise in numbers to increased awareness on the part of tenants to their statutory rights.
Ombudsman Services Property are part of the Ombudsman Services organisation that also provide dispute settlement in the energy and communications sectors. All three of the lettings ombudsman schemes are free-to-use for those wishing to use their services, and offer full disclosure of complaints in their annual reports.