Date Published 23 May 2012

Agents have been warned to tighten up on their record-keeping after a surge in initial complaints to the Property Ombudsman.

They were 19% higher in the first four months of this year than the same period last year. Initial complaints against both sales and lettings agents have risen.

Ombudsman Christopher Hamer, in his first interim report for 2012, said that poor record-keeping by agents hinders the resolution of many complaints.

He said that, despite TPO codes requiring full and clear records to be kept for six years, he still sees ‘many disputes where claims are made by either the agent or consumer that a certain conversation took place, but with neither party able to substantiate their claim'.

He said: `Despite so many agents having access to specialist sales and lettings software packages, the issue of record-keeping continues to be problematic.

`If a complainant makes a claim and has a record which appears to substantiate that claim, but the agent is unable to provide any contemporaneous evidence to counter the allegation, the result is that I can only find in the complainant's favour.`

In one instance, Hamer cites a complaint by sellers who said that as the market had gone quiet, they agreed with the agent that marketing of the property should be suspended, but that the agent should keep the property in mind if any potential buyers showed an interest in something similar.

The sellers thought this had terminated their agreement with the agent. However, six months later, the agent called the sellers to arrange a viewing which resulted in an offer and sale. The sellers claimed that due to lack of active marketing, they should have a reduced fee. They also claimed that the agent had not passed on information during the transaction.

The Ombudsman did award the agents their commission, as he ruled they were due their fee. However, as they had ‘failed to demonstrate any sort of action during the last three weeks of the transaction', he made an award of £50 to the complainants.

In another case, he awarded £100 to a complainant on the grounds that six telephone calls over an eight-month period was not an adequate level of contact in order to keep the marketing strategy of the property under review with their clients.

Membership of TPO has continued to grow this year. Sales agents now number 11,693, up from 11,504 at the start of the year, while letting agents number 9,163, up from 8,701.

The majority of initial complaints to the Ombudsman have been on the lettings side at 2,689, up from 2,438 in the same period last year, compared with 1,332 complaints against sales agents, up from 1,242.