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TPO member news: TSI approval, new Zoopla tool for members & Home Office update

This edition is a great opportunity for us to celebrate some exciting news for our members with TSI approving a second Code of Practice, which enables every TPO letting agent to use their new TSI 'approved trader' status  to assure consumers that they operate the highest service standards. We've also got some fantastic news for all TPO members following the launch of a new tool on Zoopla. This edition also includes an important announcement from the Home Office and some best practice on final viewpoint letters.

Gerry Fitzjohn, Vice Chairman of The Property Ombudsman Limited.

New TSI approval for TPO’s Lettings Code

I’m delighted to announce that TPO’s Lettings Code of Practice has received approval by the Consumer Codes Approval Board, which is operated by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).

TSI took over the running of the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS) from the Office of Fair Trading last year and subsequently approved TPO’s Sales Code Practice.

Across the UK, tenants and landlords can now look out for the TSI-approved code logo displayed by TPO’s 12,400 members to see if their agent is registered with the largest government-approved property ombudsman scheme in the UK.

What’s more, by following TPO’s Lettings Code of Practice, letting agents have automatically become TSI Approved Traders and will appear in their online consumer directory:

CCAS is distinct from other trader approved schemes in that individual traders cannot sign up to it – the only way a trader can display the TSI-approved code logo is through membership of an organisation whose Code of Practice has passed a stringent two-stage process to gain approval. The high standards of the approved Codes are maintained by a robust system of annual onsite audits by TSI-appointed trading standards professionals.

TPO’s Lettings Code of Practice has been updated to include the TSI logo (please see article image) and TSI window stickers are available to order.

To order the latest copy of TPO’s Lettings Code, please visit the Members’ Area of the TPO website and click on the ‘Printed Stationery and Window Stickers’ box at the bottom of the page.

TPO member benefits:
• Members of an approved Code can display the TSI approved code logo. This will help you promote your business as one that consumers can trust, giving you a commercial advantage over competitors.
• By adhering to an approved Code, your business can demonstrate a higher level of customer service and customer protection, such as a robust and legitimate customer complaints procedure and clear pre-contractual information. This will help you to attract and retain customers.
• Being a TSI Approved Trader and following a CCAS approved Code can help drive up customer standards within your sector and raise consumer trust.
• Members of an approved code will also have their business details shown on TSI's Consumer Code Online Directory and Citizens Advice Bureau’s website.

Next steps:
• Use of the TSI logo is subject to specific conditions so please make sure you adhere to the following:
- The TSI Approved Code Brand Guide
- The TSI Licence Agreement
- TSI guidance: Adding the TSI CCAS Logo to your website
(All of the above are available to view by clicking the ‘Trading Standards Institute’ box on the Members’ Area of the TPO website:
• To obtain a copy of the TSI logo please email and make sure your email includes your TPO membership number (or trading name) and address (including their postcode).
• To review the latest agent and consumer-facing literature available to members, please visit the Members’ Area of the TPO website and click on the ‘Printed Stationery and Window Stickers’ box.

Please make sure you’re following us on @TPOmb so see the latest news.

Kind regards

Gerry Fitzjohn
Vice Chairman, The Property Ombudsman (TPO) Limited

N.B. Please be aware that with effect from 1st April 2013, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) stopped operating the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS) – agents can no longer use the OFT logo in any of their marketing and it could be considered a criminal offence to do so.

Have you signed up?

Did you know? The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills recently launched a new website offering free, impartial legal guidance for businesses that sell goods and/or supply services to consumers.

The new Business Companion website is an online tool designed to help agents and business owners untangle what is sometimes a complicated and confusing world of trading standards and consumer protection legislation.

The website is broken down into three key sections covering:

The basics: Unsure of the law on trading standards or whether the rules apply to you? Find out how the law sees businesses that sell to consumers
Concise guidance: Want answers right now? Quick Guides are arranged by what, where and how you sell to help you find the information you need
Detailed information: Know what you’re looking for, or want to browse a list of specific guidance arranged by category? In-depth Guides deliver the detail

The guides are tailored to not only cover what you sell but where you sell and how you sell, in a user-friendly and informative style.

Featured example: ‘Estate agents – property descriptions’
The new Business Companion website includes a vast range of guidance, including a guide for property agents on applying descriptions to a property.

The guidance covers the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (known as the CPRs) which control descriptions used by estate agents and letting agents. They create criminal offences for traders that breach them. The Regulations prohibit 'misleading actions' and 'misleading omissions' that cause, or are likely to cause, the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise.

The Business Companion guidance covers general descriptions relating to location, environment, photographs, measurements, parking and pricing. Plus general disclaimers in small print, telling buyers not to rely on details, won't be effective in preventing offences.

Quick link - to view the guide, please click here.

Next steps:
Register with Business Companion to receive the latest guides and updates, and create collections to read later
• All of the guides are available to download and print – have a look at the website and make sure your branch staff can access the latest guidance affecting their work.
• Need more information? Read through the website’s FAQ

New Zoopla tool for TPO members

TPO has worked with Zoopla to launch a new tool which allows all member agents to display their logo on all of their property advertisements.

How to display the TPO logo:
• Simply log onto your Zoopla account, using the back-up system ‘Zoopla Pro’
• Click on the ‘Profile’ tab
• Select ‘Edit profile’
• Tick the ‘TPO’ (The Property Ombudsman) box

Once you’ve followed the steps above, the TPO logo will automatically display on all of your future Zoopla property listings to ensure consumers know that you are fully complaint with the redress legislation and registered with the UK’s largest government-approved property dispute resolution service.

Home Office announcement

The Home Office has asked TPO along with other organisations in the property sector to distribute the following information about the provisions of the Immigration Act 2014.

The provisions are being introduced on a phased basis, starting on 1st December in large parts of the West Midlands and it is important that landlords and tenants in the implementation area are aware of the need for these checks and how to perform them.

The Immigration Act 2014 introduces new restrictions that will apply to private residential rental agreements. The Act makes it illegal to rent accommodation to a person as their main or only home who is disqualified by their unlawful immigration status. This applies to landlords, lettings agents who act on their behalf, tenants who sublet accommodation, and those who accommodate lodgers in their own homes for rent. Those who provide rented accommodation to those with no 'right to rent' may be liable to a civil penalty of up to &3000 for each tenant. These provisions are part of the UK Government's strategy to ensure that the immigration system attracts the brightest and the best and restricts the opportunities for illegal immigrants to secure and sustain a settled lifestyle here, and to reduce the pull factor for others who would be illegal migrants.

Illegal immigrants are excluded from benefits, social housing and should not, otherwise be able to displace our lawful residents in accessing the finite housing stock. Illegal immigration is also associated with the incidence of irregular living arrangements and with rogue or criminal landlords who exploit their tenants.

The provisions will not impact upon tenancies that pre-date the implementation of the provisions in that area of the UK. In all new tenancy agreements, the landlord should conduct a simple document check to establish that a prospective tenant has a right to rent. This will enable the landlord to establish an excuse against a penalty if it is found they have rented accommodation to an illegal migrant. For the purposes of these provisions, these checks should be carried out in relation to all adults (those 18 and over) who will take up occupation of the accommodation whether they are the named tenants or not.

The right to rent checks are straightforward and have taken account of input from bodies representing landlords, lettings agents and housing charities. The vast majority of checks can be conducted within a matter of seconds and will often involve the landlord (the person providing the rented accommodation) seeing no more than the documents that they will already wish to see in conducting due diligence, credit or tenant referencing checks. The checks are modelled on the right to work checks employers have performed for many years, and in the majority of cases will involve a face value examination of commonly-held documents without the need to contact the Home Office.

The right to rent checks are being implemented first in the local authority areas of Birmingham and Wolverhampton City Councils and Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall Metropolitan Borough Councils.

Codes of practice and guidance documents for landlords have been published on

Landlords can verify a potential tenant has the right to live in the UK using an online checker. The checker also helps if they need to ask the Home Office to carry out an official right to rent check if the person has an outstanding immigration application or appeal. The Home Office has the power to grant a person permission to rent even though they do not have lawful immigration status where there are recognised barriers preventing them from leaving the UK.

There are simple to follow guidance tool-kits available on Landlords: immigration right to rent checks

To help landlords and homeowners comply with the scheme, a dedicated helpline has been set up: 0300 069 9799 where they can get more information. The helpline can also carry out checks on individuals who have an ongoing immigration application or appeal with the Home Office, or whose documents are with the Home Office.

I would be grateful if, you could give consideration to the part that your organisation may be able to play in raising awareness across your customer base. Please feel free also, in sharing this letter with other bodies or organisations that provide a service for this market.

This resource will help you to find the guidance and aids prepared for the market;

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).