Q. Who can I turn to if I have a complaint against an estate agent?
ASK THE EXPERT
A. Under the Consumer Estate Agents and Redress Act (2007), which came into force in October 2008, all practising estate agents are obliged to belong to a redress scheme approved by the Office of Fair Trading. Currently, there are two such schemes: the Surveyors Ombudsman Service – which, as its name suggests, was set up under the auspices of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors specifically to deal with complaints against its own members – and The Property Ombudsman, formerly known as the Ombudsman for Estate Agents Scheme, which covers all other agents. Although you will need to check which of these two schemes the firm in question belongs to, both are designed to fulfil broadly the same function – ie. to provide sellers and buyers alike with access to a free, fair, and above all independent, complaints handling and redress system.
In practice, this means that if you have a dispute with your agent, which cannot be satisfactorily resolved through the firm’s own complaints handling procedures, then you can take the matter to the relevant Ombudsman, who will consider it and arrive at a judgement. Where appropriate, he can even award compensation – in the case of The Property Ombudsman, up to a figure of £25,000. What’s more, although the agent concerned is bound by the Ombudsman’s decision, the complainant isn’t – so, if you’re still not happy, you’re free to take the matter further; for example, to court.
Of course, despite the legal requirement, it’s always possible that there may still be one or two rogue agents out there who don’t belong to either of the two approved schemes. Fortunately, however, they’re reasonably easy to spot: they won’t display the relevant logos on their shop windows or stationery, and they will probably be rather evasive if you ask them about their membership. They may even try to convince you that they belong to another “similar” scheme! Whether or not you decide to report such firms to your local Trading Standards Office is up to you. But at least it means you have a clear choice – between those agents who abide by laws specifically designed to provide you with real peace of mind, and those that don’t!