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What Is The Property Ombudsman Code of Practice?

This article explains what the Property Ombudsman is and how its code of practice works.

Published 24 January 2023

Author Steven Rae

What Is The Property Ombudsman Code of Practice?

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) Code of Practice provides tenants and landlords with a redress scheme for disputes with letting agents.

     Highlights:

  • TPO code of practice protects landlords and tenants from unscrupulous letting agents.
  • The TPO code of practice doesn’t cover private landlords. Instead, it covers letting agents that a private landlord would hire to manage their properties. 
  • TPO cannot take enforcement action or make decisions on legislative breaches. Instead, the code focuses on whether the letting agent has adhered to best practice. 
  • The Property Ombudsman has several powers, including issuing fines of up to £25,000.

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is a not-for-profit organisation that offers impartial resolution for property disputes. 

This article explains what TPO is and how the code of practice works.

 

What Is the TPO Code of Practice?

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is a not-for-profit organisation that offers impartial resolution for property disputes. 

Its code of practice is a series of rules that set the standard for lettings and estate agents. It offers both landlords and residents the right to redress.

There are several versions of the code available. Each refers to a different type of agent or a different part of the UK.

For example, there is a code of practice for residential lettings agents in England and another for Scotland. 

Agents are required by law to sign up to a redress scheme, although the TPO code of practice isn’t the only one. Another example is the Property Redress Scheme.

If your letting agent is not a member of a scheme then they could be fined up to £5,000.

If you have a complaint about an agent, you should find out which scheme they are members of and go through them.

 

How Does It Apply to Landlords?

The TPO code doesn’t cover private landlords. Instead, it covers letting agents that a private landlord would hire to manage their properties. 

This means it can also protect you from a letting agent’s poor practice.

For example, if you think that your letting agent has not been meeting the standards set out in the code then your reputation may suffer. If this happens, you can report them to The Property Ombudsman.

 

It keeps you up to date

The code is constantly changing to reflect the latest developments in the property industry. 

Following these changes can help ensure that your property company remains up to date with requirements.

For example, issues with damp and mould in rental properties have received a lot of media attention recently. The Property Ombudsman has announced that they will be taking a new approach to dealing with these issues to ensure they get the attention they deserve.

In the past they have also announced changes relating to communications and GDPR.

 

All Propertymark holders are TPO members

Propertymark is the UK’s largest membership body for property agents. To become members, letting agents need to be registered with TPO. 

They can use the logos of both organisations on their marketing materials as a sign of professionalism, trust and respectability. 

 

What Does It Not Cover?

TPO cannot take enforcement action or make decisions on legislative breaches. 

If the organisation finds that this has happened, it will report the incident to the appropriate authorities. This could include local trading standards, the police or a court. 

Instead, the code focuses on whether the letting agent has adhered to best practices. 

 

What Powers Does the Ombudsman Have?

The Ombudsman has the power to:

  • Criticise an agent for failing to follow the code 
  • Make an award of up to £25,000 to the complainant
  • Direct the agent to take formal steps, like issuing an apology

The case study below shows the sort of case that TPO deals with and the decisions that it makes.

 

Case study: Landlord complains after letting agent fails to spot illegal activity

Complaint:

A landlord complained to TPO about their letting agent after tenants used their property for criminal activity. They grew cannabis plants and caused around £8,000 of damage.

The tenants had submitted fake passports to the letting agent and used fake work references. The landlord claimed that the letting agent hadn’t done enough to verify the tenant’s identity.

The landlord also complained of other failures, such as the agent failing to report suspected criminal activity at the property to them.

The agent accepted some of the failures and offered the landlord £600 as a goodwill gesture. But the landlord rejected it.

Investigation:

TPO found the following:

  • The forged passports were high quality and that staff could not have known they weren’t real.
  • The agent had failed to follow guidance on obtaining proof of address.
  • The agent had failed to report the criminal activity to either the landlord or the police.
  • The letting agent could not be held responsible for the conduct of the tenants.

Outcome:

  • The agent had made mistakes but was not to blame for the criminal activity taking place in the property.
  • There was no reason for them to think anything was amiss when accepting the tenants.
  • However, they had failed to follow guidance on referencing reports and obtaining proof of address.
  • Their communication failures with the police and landlord caused avoidable issues.
  • TPO ordered the agent to award the landlord £1,000.

 

What Is the Process?

Here is the process if you or one of your residents wants to complain to The Property Ombudsman. It takes between 30 - 90 days.

Attempt to resolve the issue with the agent

Before contacting The Property Ombudsman, you should complain to the letting agent. You should contact TPO if:

  • You receive a response and you find it unsatisfactory
  • If three weeks elapse without a response (the TPO will remind them)
  • If eight weeks elapse without a response (final deadline).

Send a Complaint

Visit The Property Ombudsman website and fill in a complaint form. It takes just 15 minutes, although you will need to include copies of supporting evidence. Note that The Property Ombudsman won’t handle your case if you complained to the agent more than 12 months ago.

When writing a complaint, you should make it clear what you think would resolve the dispute. For example, would you like financial compensation or just an apology?

Ombudsman investigates

An adjudicator will consider the documents submitted by you and the agent. If the case is simple then it may skip adjudication and get resolved early.

Sometimes the complaint is valid but not relevant to the code. If this is the case, the Ombudsman will suggest third-party mediation.

The more complex and egregious the case, the higher it will be escalated and the longer it will take. The Ombudsman personally deals with issues where the compensation is £5,000 or more.

Final decision

Finally, the Ombudsman will write to you explaining their final decision. If the letting agent is found to have broken the code of practice they can be asked to:

  • Perform staff training
  • Change processes
  • Apologise
  • Pay compensation

Better Lettings with EVO

Delivering a great service to tenants is tough for landlords and letting agents. Managing repairs and maintenance and communicating with residents and tradespeople is complex and can cause costs to spiral.

EVO is a digital platform that brings together landlords, tenants, tradespeople and letting agents all in one platform. It significantly increases efficiency and reduces costs, while improving landlord and tenant satisfaction. 

PHOTO BY EVO

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