Both forums commenced with an update from MHCLG on the Government’s response to Covid-19, their support package for tenants and landlords and, despite an obvious delay due to Covid-19, ministers’ continued commitment to reforms within the property industry.
Introduction from Rebecca Marsh, Property Ombudsman
New Ombudsman, Rebecca Marsh followed, providing delegates with an insight into what regulation looks like in other sectors she had worked in, while emphasising the Ombudsman’s role of helping to underpin trust and confidence in the sector. The Ombudsman acknowledged the challenges both TPO and the industry has faced as a result of the pandemic, particularly around early resolution of disputes but noted the excellent service being provided by the vast majority of agents. She commented:
“In spite of the pandemic, the number of complaints TPO has received so far this year is greater than last year, reflecting the consumer interest in getting their complaints resolved. However, when set against the number of transactions within the sector, the number of complaints is very small indeed.
“Building on TPO’s previous ‘raising standards’ agenda, I plan to widen this and look at how trust and confidence can be improved within the sector. This is something for all agents to consider and an invitation for me, as an Ombudsman, to get to know those who rarely see a complaint escalated to us.
“Consumers need a vibrant property sector as much as agents want one. As an Ombudsman, it is not just about redress and resolving complaints, it is also about helping the industry improve and improving experiences for consumers. It is important that redress is speedy and that will build confidence.”
Overarching Code Consultation
TPO’s Director of Policy then provided an update on the overarching Code consultation, noting the majority of responses were positive with nearly 500 suggestions and comments in total. The RoPA Code Steering Group will look to provide a full response to the consultation and a final draft of the code in the first quarter of next year. Thereafter, the intention is to hand the code to MHCLG ready for the new regulator once in post.
CPR Guidance - NTSELAT
At the industry forum, NTSELAT discussed their updated CPR guidance, which now includes letting agency work as well as sales, with updated examples and scenarios throughout to help agents understand what constitutes material information. NTSELAT also explained that they are working with the portals to improve material information disclosure on property listings and producing a checklist of compliance for their enforcement agents to use.
Rent-to-Rent agreements – Justice for Tenants
In the consumer forum, Justice for Tenants highlighted how unlawful Rent-to-Rent agreements, which exploit vulnerable tenants, have become increasingly more apparent during the pandemic. Tenants who have struggled to pay rent have fallen victim to unlawful evictions, harassment and properties in disrepair. The advice to landlords was to do their due diligence and ensure they were using a reputable Rent-To-Rent company, as they could be held responsible if the property was used as an unlicensed HMO.
The next TPO Consumer and Industry Forums will take place on 24 February 2021.