Property complaints: the Ombudsmen and organisations that can help you
There will inevitably be times when buying or selling a property goes wrong.
What’s more, this isn’t always simply the result of bad luck ‒ you may have been on the receiving end of some poor service, whether from the property developers, the estate agent or your mortgage lender.
So where can you turn for help when things go wrong? There are all sorts of different organisations set up to protect consumers, but they all do rather different things so it’s important to understand what they can and cannot help with.
New Homes Quality Board
The newest body is the New Homes Quality Board, which has been established to oversee the introduction of a new code of practice for developers of new homes. It is also setting up an Ombudsman to protect buyers who find issues when purchasing a new build property.
The code is currently being consulted on, so it will be some time before it’s properly up and running.
The Property Ombudsman
The Property Ombudsman can look into disputes between consumers and ‘property agents’. This is effectively an umbrella term for estate agents, letting agents and other bodies who may be involved in the transaction, such as property search providers or property surveyors.
The Ombudsman can order businesses to not only refund you but provide compensation payments of as much as £25,000 if they find that you have been let down.
You will have to complain to the agent first to give them a chance to put things right before going to the Ombudsman.
Property Redress Scheme
Somewhat confusingly, there is also the Property Redress Scheme which fulfils a similar role in overseeing disputes between consumers and property professionals.
Again, you will have to complain to the agent first before the Property Redress Scheme can take a look at your case. It can then offer a ‘negotiated resolution service’ and if that doesn’t lead anywhere, it can make a formal decision on the case.
Ultimately the body you need to take your complaint to will vary based on which scheme the firm in question has signed up to.
The Housing Ombudsman
The Housing Ombudsman is in place to oversee disputes between tenants and housing organisations. This may mean housing associations, letting agents or private landlords.
The Ombudsman set out a new code for landlords last year, covering how they should handle complaints from tenants “effectively and fairly”.
First you will need to complain directly to your landlord. If this doesn’t get anywhere, you can then need to complain to a ‘designated person’. This could be your MP, a local councillor or a ‘tenant panel’. If they cannot sort things out, then they can refer your case to the Ombudsman, or you can head directly to the Ombudsman yourself.
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
The RICS is the main trade body for chartered surveyors, and it’s a possible option if you end up having an issue with your survey.
Obviously the surveyor you use will need to be a member, and while it has the power to fine members if it finds they have breached the rules it cannot force them to pay any compensation.
The legal side of a property deal is hugely important, and if your conveyancer makes a mistake it could be seriously costly.
If the conveyancer doesn’t address your complaint to your satisfaction, then you can raise the problem with the Legal Ombudsman. It has the power to not only force them to refund you but to pay compensation as well.
The Financial Ombudsman Service
As the name suggests, the FOS is there to act as an arbiter with financial issues. When it comes to property, that likely means the arranging of the mortgage you use to purchase the property, whether you get it directly from the lender or through an intermediary.
The FOS is free to use, though you are required to complain to the firm in question first to give them a chance to put things right before going to the FOS. The FOS can order a firm to refund you or even provide you with compensation if it finds that you have been mistreated.
It’s also worth noting that there is currently quite the backlog at the FOS, with the organisation recently criticised by MPs for the number of cases which have not been resolved more than a year after they were first opened by the Ombudsman.