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Bite-size best practice: Final viewpoint letters

Ensuring clear and precise communication is one of the biggest issues agents can face with a complainant. Handling complaints swiftly and maintaining regular communication with a complainant is essential to secure an early resolution in the event of a dispute, before TPO needs to be involved.

If someone makes a formal complaint against your business, TPO’s Codes of Practice outline what agents must do in terms of operating and maintaining an in-house complaints procedure (please see Section 14 of the Sales Code and Section 18 of the Lettings Code).

At the end of the procedure you need to make a statement of your stance and any offer you intend to make to settle the matter. That ‘final viewpoint’ letter is a critical tool for every agent looking to close and is a formal written communication that every agent must send to a complainant after the firm has completed their own internal investigation into an alleged issue. It will also, again in accordance with the TPO Code, direct the complainant to TPO if they remain dissatisfied with your response.

Knowing what to include in your ‘final viewpoint’ letter is therefore important. While there are no templates for these letters per se (as they must be determined by each agent in line with their own internal process) there are some essential points that every such letter should always include:

1. Explicitly state that this your final statement on the matter and has the status of a final viewpoint letter.
2. Summarise each of the issues raised by the consumer in their initial complaint and your respective conclusion/findings following an internal investigation.
3. Make it clear to the complainant that you have now concluded your internal complaints process.
4. Inform the consumer of their right to refer their complaint to TPO for review, pointing out that any such referral to TPO must be made within six months of the date of issue final viewpoint letter. (Note that if the letter does not make clear that there is a six month time limit for submission to TPO that the Ombudsman may in certain circumstances accept the complaint anyway).

By ensuring you have covered off each area of a complaint concisely and in plain English, leaving no doubt or ambiguity with regards to your findings and any associated actions, the complainant can reflect on your letter and the rationale presented before deciding whether they wish to pursue the matter through TPO.

Did you know? When reviewing a complaint, if the Ombudsman finds the agent is not at fault for the issue(s) raised, he may still uphold part of a complaint if it is found that the agent failed to communicate effectively with the complainant. The Ombudsman has been known to direct that an award be paid if the agent’s in-house complaint handling process was not adhered to or fell short of the standards outlined in the Code of Practice.

Did you know? A third of Sales and Lettings complaints were resolved through the Early Resolution Team this year (before a full review takes place), which is often made possible because the agent has already addressed the complaint fully and swiftly. (Source: TPO 2014 Interim Report).