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The Property Ombudsman issues revised Codes of Practice

Friday 24 May 2019

On 1 June, The Property Ombudsman (TPO) scheme’s updated Codes of Practice will become effective. The revisions are substantial, and incorporate the Tenant Fees Act, Client Money Protection and GDPR requirements.

TPO consulted with 44 different organisations and individuals during the review process.  The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and The National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team (NTSEAT) provided a technical review of the lettings and sales codes respectively. Along with the Scottish Sales Codes, they were then scrutinised and approved by CTSI.

The new Codes are available on the TPO Codes page which will soon be revised to include a facility to put forward requests for future changes to the codes. The codes for estate agencies are for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the codes for letting agencies just relate to the UK.

The Ombudsman, Katrine Sporle commented: “We have carried out the largest consultation yet on the codes and are extremely grateful to all of the parties who have contributed to the process. With CTSI’s approval, consumers and agents can be confident that the Codes reflect both market developments and the significant legislative changes that have occurred over the last 12 months.

“As the industry changes at such a rapid rate, it is necessary to release new versions of our Codes to help agents understand their responsibilities and reduce the potential for consumer detriment to occur. Given these extensive changes, we have taken the decision to double the number of agent workshops at our annual Conference and will focus delegates attention on pre and post fee ban and code change cases.”

NAEA Propertymark and ARLA Propertymark Chief Executives said: “With the multiple changes in sales and lettings, we have worked with the Government, TPO and National Trading Standards to ensure that the latest revisions to the code reflect the new legislative framework and market conditions in which our members must operate. 

“We hope that the updated code provides improved clarity on best practice and, as Housing Minister Heather Wheeler MP said, will ensure our members remain the crème de la crème of the property industry.”

There have been numerous revisions to the Codes, all of which can be seen on the change documents available here. Common changes across all the Codes of Practice include the requirement for members to display the TPO logo prominently on their emails, any other digital communications and marketing material. This is in addition to the existing requirements to display the logo in the window of offices and on agents’ websites.

Based on NTSEAT’s guidance, which considers the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, a requirement to disclose referral fees is now an obligation within the Codes to make previously hidden costs open and transparent to consumers.

Under market appraisals, advice obligations have been strengthened to require agents to explain both the benefits and disadvantages of their recommended method of transaction at market appraisal stage, for example, modern auctions or guaranteed rent schemes.

Key revisions to the Sales Code include:

Leasehold, commonhold and managed freehold disclosure: Agents’ obligations to request and divulge information relating to leasehold have been widened. If material information on the tenure is not known, this should be made clear to the consumer at the outset of marketing.

Dual fees:  In relation to the potential risk to sellers of being charged two commission fees when they sell their property, transparency obligations have been updated and expanded together with a definition of effective introduction in the glossary.

Key revisions to the Lettings Code include:

England only: TPO Code of Practice for Residential Letting Agents is now an England only Code.  The current 2016 Lettings Code will continue to apply to Wales and Northern Ireland until such time as Welsh tenant fee legislation becomes effective.

Tenant fees:  The Code reflects changes imposed on agents by the Tenant Fee Act 2019, with new sections on holding deposits and the fees which are permissible under the Act.

Tenancy deposit replacement products: A further update takes into account the emergence of tenancy deposit replacement products, putting the onus on agents to clearly explain the potential advantages and disadvantages of that product prior to tenants and landlords committing themselves.

Client Money Protection: The Code also reflects the requirement to belong to a CMP scheme and to display the CMP certificate in agents’ offices and on websites.

All other Codes including, Scottish Sales, Buying Companies, Buying Agents, Commercial and Business, have been updated in line with legislation and best practice obligations.

Updated Codes of Practice

TPO will apply the new Codes of Practice when reviewing consumer complaints about events that have occurred after 1st June 2019 to ensure consistent advice, guidance and decision making is applied to both Agents and Consumers which raises standards and reduces consumer detriment.

TPO’s annual Conference is being held on 10 July at the National Conference Centre, Solihull.

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Propertymark resources

ARLA Propertymark members can take advantage of the numerous guides and fact sheets in order to arm them with the knowledge to ensure they comply with legislative changes.

Resources include:

  • Tenant Fees Toolkit
  • Tenant Fees Act case study
  • GDPR bitesize videos
  • Fact sheets which break down multiple pieces of legislation

To access these, members can login to the members area.