Government sets down rules for redress initiative

iStock_000019210149_ExtraSmallNext year's deadline for all letting agencies in England to join an ombudsman scheme has taken a step closer to reality.

In a clarification on what the measures will entail, the Government said that 'Compulsory redress schemes for these agents will ensure agents can be investigated where they have not been clear about fees or other issues, and will provide a cheaper, easier way to pursue compensation if there is a complaint'.

According to the rules, agencies may be investigated if:

  1. Fees and charges are not clearly stated in all property adverts and communicated to clients early.
  2. Those fees and charges are disproportionate to the service that the agent has provided.
  3. They fail to comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008), which states that all agencies must 'take all reasonable steps' to make their property descriptions accurate and not misleading.
  4. Any 'critical information' (repairs or maintenance issues, for instance) is not brought to the client's attention before the tenancy begins.

The Government also suggested that more redress schemes may be set up alongside the TPO and Ombudsman schemes already operating. Whilst they would not be able to force a code of practise, landlords and tenants would be able to complain if the voluntary code was not adhered to.

That is so that entry into the schemes is available to all. They must also commit to being impartial, fully staffed, free for landlords and tenants, easily accessible, transparent in their reporting and knowledgeable on lettings law.

Kris Hopkins, one of the housing ministers behind the bill, had this to say about the new rules: 'Private rented homes play an important role in providing flexible accommodation to many hard-working people who either do not want to buy or who are saving up for a deposit.'

'Having a redress scheme will provide confidence to both tenants and landlords that any problems with letting agents can be cheaply and swiftly resolved and provides an alternative to the court system.'

'The conditions we are publishing set out our view of what needs to be considered in setting up a redress scheme that can give peace of mind to many people living and operating in the private rented sector and in leasehold accommodation.'

'Residential leaseholders and freeholders also now have somewhere they can go to resolve the day-to-day management problems that can arise with managing agents, without having to resort to a tribunal or court.'

'We aim for schemes to come forward for approval throughout January 2014 and urge agents to join one before it becomes a compulsory requirement.'

'The suggested conditions follow the recent publication of a tenants' charter for the private rented sector, which ensures all tenants know what to expect from their tenancy and, if something goes wrong, where to go for help.'

'This includes greater transparency about lettings agents' fees, helping to stop unreasonable practices and unfair charges, and ensuring would-be tenants know the full costs before they sign up to any contract.'

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