The Property Ombudsman registers 29% rise in enquiries

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has seen enquiries increase year-on-year with a record 39,285 reported, up 29% on 2019.

According to the organisation’s 2020 annual report, nearly half of all enquiries were submitted via its self-service portal (17,359).

Over 34,000 enquiries were resolved at first contact through effective advice, guidance, and signposting, and 5,122 were accepted as complaints by TPO.

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 £1.9m — down 13% on 2019.

TPO dealt with 2,737 complaints relating to lettings, 1,656 to sales, 1,194 for residential leasehold management (RLM), and 120 for other property professionals.

For lettings, 55% of complaints were received from landlords, while 43% came from tenants.

For sales, 68% of complaints were received from sellers, while 30% came from buyers.

Across the RLM sector, 80% of complaints were received from leaseholders, with freeholders, resident associations, resident management companies, and right to manage companies among the remaining 20%.

The top causes of complaints being referred to TPO were management for lettings, communication and record keeping for sales, and complaints handling for RLM disputes.

The biggest awards were £20,838 (lettings), £24,139 (sales) and £10,642 (RLM), with the average awards standing at £612, £653, and £339, respectively.

TPO recorded a 99% compliance rate with awards last year, 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.

Rebecca Marsh, property ombudsman at TPO, said: “2020 was a year like no other for all businesses and everyone had to quickly respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“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. 

“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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