Post by Tracey Hill, lead Councillor for private rented housing, Brighton and Hove City Council
It’s a bit of a negative title! Of course a lot of letting agents provide a good service to tenants a lot of the time. But I have also heard numerous complaints about letting agents and the service they provide, and it’s clear that I’m not alone.
The lettings agency business has traditionally been very under-regulated, but recently new measures have come in which give tenants and landlords more options to hold their agents to account. One of these is that requirement that every letting agent is registered with a redress or ombudsman scheme, and that they advertise on their website and in their offices which scheme they belong to. There are currently three such schemes:
The Property Ombudsman (TPOS) 01722 333306
Ombudsman Services 0330 440 1634
The Property Redress Scheme (PRS) 0333 321 9418
These organisations are there to make it easier for customers to complain about unsatisfactory service they have received. Within each scheme there is generally a code of conduct which makes it clear what kind of service you as a tenant should expect. This is a good place to start when deciding if you have a good enough reason to make a complaint. Here are some links:
Ombudsman Services : – refers to NALS which describes their “defined standards of service” here: http://www.nalscheme.co.uk/benefits-of-nals/ – and and UKALA which has a code of practice here: https://ukala.org.uk/agents/resources
Generally, you will need to complain first directly to the letting agent. It is only after you have done this and given them an opportunity to put things right that the ombudsman will take it up. I have spoken to people who have waited until after they have moved out to make a complaint. While I understand the reasons for this, the letting agent does have a point if they say that they only knew there was a problem after it was too late to fix it… so bear that in mind.
If you have complained to the letting agent and are dissatisfied with their response (or lack thereof), you can complain via the ombudsman. Each website will explain how that can be done. The ombudsman services can require the letting agent to make an award which could be anything from an apology to practical action and financial compensation up to a certain amount. There are time limits, so don’t leave it too long.
One of the problems with the private rented sector is that despite the sometimes substantial fees tenants have to pay, many letting agents still don’t consider tenants to be their customers. To the letting agent, the landlord is the customer because landlords can decide which letting agent to use. Once tenants have found a property they like, they don’t have a choice about which agency to let through. This in itself produces a mismatch in expectations where tenants feel they should get more back from the fees they pay than they actually do.
All the more reason to ensure that letting agents have some obligation to respond to the complaints of their tenants. These ombudsman schemes are there to do that, and I hope tenants will make use of them when appropriate.