Letting agent complaints overwhelm ombudsman

Complaints about letting agents have soared in the past year, according to figures from The Property Ombudsman.

Figures show grumbles about agents from tenants and landlords increased by 9% compared with the 2011, to 8,334 complaints from 7,641 the year before.

Although the ombudsman handled 5,702 complaints, another 511 were outside his terms of reference and 2,121 were about agents outside the scheme.

In his report, the ombudsman commented his office was unprepared for the increase in complaints and lacked the staff and resources to handle the upsurge.

Just over 14,000 separate issues were reported by landlords and tenants about letting agents.

An average 11 contacts occurred per inquiry, and this increased to 29 contacts if the inquiry progressed to a formal review or early resolution.

The yearly report shows an increase in issues reported to the ombudsman since 2008, when 3,739 enquiries were made. The average year-on-year increase in lettings enquiries is 22%.

The majority of complaints (54%) related to poor service. Nearly a fifth (19%) were about unfair business practice, 12% related to fees and charges and secure deposits, while repair and maintenance issues each brought in 6% of the enquiries.

Landlords made the most inquiries, accounting for 54.1% of contacts, and tenants accounted for 44.7%. The remainder were from third parties.

The South East accounted for the majority of the complaints (26%), followed by Greater London at 25% and the North West at 10%.

The ombudsman, Christopher Hamer, reiterated a call for regulation of letting agents. He says all agents should be required by law to join the scheme.

The government is keen to avoid over-regulation, but as the private rented sector has grown dramatically in recent years, trade associations and consumer groups have highlighted the need for stricter control of letting agents – especially for protecting client money they hold.

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