The Property Ombudsman (TPO) is a free, impartial and independent service that has been helping resolve disputes between consumers and estate agents since 1990.
It also offers a wealth of useful guidance for tenants, landlords and those buying or selling their homes.
The Property Ombudsman can look into a complaint if an estate agent has failed to resolve it.
They can order the estate agent to compensate you if they support your complaint.
It’s easy to apply, but you should provide evidence, and a ruling can take time.
What does the Property Ombudsman do?
The TPO investigates disputes that have not been satisfactorily resolved by your property agent. They also get involved in disputes where your property agent has failed to engage with you consistently.
Before contacting the Ombudsman, you must first complain to the property agent to give them the opportunity to fix the issue.
However, the property agent must be registered with TPO for them to investigate what’s gone wrong.
If your estate agent isn’t registered with TPO, they should be signed up to the Property Redress Scheme, as this is the only other approved scheme.
Any estate agent that deals with UK residential properties or a letting agent or property manager in England and Wales that doesn’t join an approved redress scheme can be fined up to £5,000 and have their licence revoked.
How can the Property Ombudsman help?
If the TPO supports your complaint, they can make an ‘award of compensation’ that the estate agent must pay within 28 days (unless there are outstanding fees).
However, it must be proven that you have experienced:
Proven financial loss due to the direct or indirect actions of an estate agent.
Avoidable ‘aggravation, distress and inconvenience.’
According to the TPO, the average payout for complaints (as of 2022) was £504 for lettings and £488 for sales complaints, far below the maximum award of up to £25,000 or £5,000 for search providers.
The TPO stresses that the maximum award is rare and only applies when ‘significant financial losses’ have occurred.
If the complaint represents a ‘serious breach’ of relevant codes, the TPO can report it to its Disciplinary and Standards Committee.
When can you apply to the Property Ombudsman?
As mentioned, you must complain to your estate agent first. You can get help with your complaint from a friend, family member or even a third party like Citizens Advice.
The estate agent will then investigate and offer a written response within 15 working days in accordance with the TPO Code of Practice and send a final viewpoint letter if your complaint cannot be resolved.
Alternatively, it may make you an offer to resolve the dispute.
If the TPO formally reviews your complaint, the offer is no longer available, and if you reject it, the Ombudsman may not necessarily award you anything.
Also, if the TPO disagrees with your complaint, the agent doesn’t have to reinstate their previous offer.
If you’re unhappy with the estate agent’s decision or don’t receive a letter within eight weeks of filing a complaint, you can then complain to the TPO.
How do you apply?
You need to fill in a complaint form within 12 months of receiving the final letter.
You can do this yourself, or someone you trust can apply for you, such as a friend or family member.
If you choose to let a third party handle the complaint, you must provide the TPO with a letter of authority.
When submitting your complaint, you should provide copies of any evidence and respond to any requests for further information.
While the TPO offers an estimated time for a response, if you haven’t received a response in 15 days, you should get in touch.
The Ombudsman will ask for information from the estate agent – if they don’t provide this within a reasonable timeline, the TPO will rely on the evidence and information it has.
When investigating your complaint, the TPO will mainly look at:
The evidence provided
The relevant Code of Practice
What is fair and reasonable for your circumstances
If the Ombudsman supports your complaint, they’ll contact the property agent, who will have 14 days to consider the proposal and either accept it or appeal.
After this, the TPO will contact you with their proposal – you have 28 days to accept or reject the decision.
If the TPO doesn’t support your complaint, you have 28 days to appeal. Here, you must provide evidence of a ‘significant error’ or offer new evidence that could have a huge impact on the decision.
If this appeal is unsuccessful, you and your property agent can go through the courts as a last resort, but this can be costly and time-consuming.