In our last newsletter, we announced that The Property Ombudsman had set up both a consumer and an industry forum, representative of the whole property sector including Scotland and Wales, to discuss areas of concern from both perspectives.
The purpose of the fora, chaired by non-executive directors Michael Stoop (industry forum) and Mark McLaren (consumer forum), is to facilitate discussion and debate around specific issues which could result in consumer detriment, and consider ways to eliminate these through best practice and/or changes to the Codes of Practice.
The last meetings took place on 18th October at The Abbey Centre, Westminster, providing an opportunity for both groups to hear from industry representatives, network and share ideas.
Presentation topics included:
1. A policy update from MHCLG - by Gavin O’Leary, Redress and Regulation Team Leader
Key points of policy intent included: -
- Proposed three-year tenancies: The consultation response will be announced later this year
- Regulation of property agents including the Tenant Fee Bill, Client Money Protection and new regulatory framework encompassing entry through minimum qualification
- Strengthening consumer redress: Ministers have unveiled plans for a specialist "housing court" to speed up the settlement of property disputes between landlords and tenants
- Details of the New Homes Ombudsman will be published later this year, as well as the response to the consultation into redress
- Independent review into selective licensing and whether it is helping local authorities
- Housing and Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS): The government is actively considering a review of the current framework.
2. Dual Commission Fees - looking at court cases with an emphasis on the need to further educate consumers and agents. Presented by Alison Farrar, Investigator for National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NSEAT)
In 2017, TPO received 32 cases relating to dual commission fees. So far this year, TPO has already received 54 cases highlighting this as a growing issue. Other industry representatives also shared similar concerns.
It was agreed that transparency to the seller at every stage of the process is required and agents need to highlight the steps that will be taken if a seller decides to use a different agent.
Owing to the level of detail in a contract, many consumers fail to read and understand all of the information outlined, it was suggested that page one of any contract should highlight essential information, such as the circumstances in which a seller may be liable for a dual fee.
3. Weekly Vs Monthly Rent - Analysis of the potential issues caused by agents advertising rent weekly rather than monthly, by Donald Silcock Civil Advisor, Trading Standards, Westminster City Council
The point was raised that since most tenants do not have the option to pay rent weekly, advertising the price of a property per week, without clearly indicating the monthly cost alongside, could be misleading to consumers.
Many consumers make the mistake of multiplying the weekly figure by 4 (rather than by 52 and dividing by 12) leading them to believe the rent is, in some cases, significantly lower than it is.
The fora agreed that advertising the weekly price of rent is acceptable, particularly as many agents in London have done this for many years. However, all agreed it should be clearly written alongside the monthly rent, and using the same size font. TPO will look to provide Primary Authority Guidance on the issue in the New Year.