9:08 AM, 24th August 2021, About a month ago
Despite understandably lower enquiry levels in the first half of the year due to the pandemic, The Property Ombudsman’s (TPO) 2020 annual report reveals a significant uplift in the last two quarters as everyone seemingly settled into a ‘new normal’.
Even though the sector experienced variability throughout 2020, enquiries increased year-on-year with a record 39,285 reported, up 29% on 2019. TPO’s self-service portal played a significant role receiving 17,359 enquiries alone, nearly half of all initial contact to TPO.
Over 34,000 enquiries were resolved at first contact through effective advice, guidance and signposting, and 5,122 enquiries were accepted as complaints by TPO. Whilst this was a rise of only 0.3%, as the bulk of enquiries were in the latter part of the year, this meant an even busier start to 2021.
The number of cases resolved by TPO grew by 12%, reflecting an increase in complex casework (4,181 cases). Of these, 2,907 cases were supported by the Ombudsman and 2,473 financial awards were made totalling £1.9 million, down 13% on 2019.
TPO dealt with 2,737 complaints relating to lettings, 1,656 relating to sales, 1,194 for residential leasehold management (RLM) and 120 for other property professionals. The biggest awards were £20,838 (lettings), £24,139 (sales) and £10,642 (RLM), and the average awards were £612, £653 and £339 respectively.
Once again, the top causes of complaints being referred to TPO were management for lettings and communication and record-keeping for sales, with complaints handling as the top cause for RLM disputes being referred to TPO.
TPO recorded a 99% compliance rate with awards in 2020, with just 40 referrals made to TPO’s Compliance Committee, 34% fewer than in 2019. Despite members totalling 40,097, only 19 agents were excluded for non-payment of awards.
Residential leasehold management overview:
Rebecca Marsh, Property Ombudsman: “2020 was a year like no other for all businesses and everyone had to quickly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. TPO effectively transitioned from an office-based service to a remote working operation with no loss of service. I’m extremely proud of the whole team who performed well whilst rising to the challenge of global events.
“Our customer services team responded to another record volume of consumer enquiries with an ever-increasing number of people opting to contact us via TPO’s complaints portal, launched in February 2020. The pandemic is not over yet, so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues or adjusts as we slowly get back to normal.
“TPO helped over 34,000 enquiries that did not need to go on to become accepted cases by signposting them to organisations that could help, or giving advice and guidance to promote a local resolution between them and the agent. Providing a front-end enquiry service is one of the unique functions of an ombudsman. Its importance in helping consumers in such a complicated sector, whether or not their issues fall within TPO’s remit, should not be understated, as often straightforward guidance and advice can help stop disputes from arising in the first instance.
“Enquiry levels in 2021 are already showing further year-on-year increases and we are expecting this to continue as the impact of the pandemic on peoples’ relationships with their homes continues to play out.”
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