Ombudsman Services Cheaper Unless Complaints Roll In !

Date Published 12 December 2012

Our story last week about The Property Ombudsman mentioned, and provoked interest in, its lesser known and – as far as the property industry is concerned – much newer competitor, Ombudsman Services.

Last week’s story referred to the fact that estate agents who register with TPO are not put on the same searchable database as those agents who sign up for membership – even though the two categories cost exactly the same, at £170 per branch.

However, Ombudsman Services (which provides redress services for other industries, as well as property) has no database for agents at all. It simply lists its members alphabetically, but you cannot search for members by location.

Readers also told us that if you contact Ombudsman Services using their online form, you get an automated response saying that you will get a reply within ten days. EAT also tried this (not disclosing our identity) and had exactly the same response – but we received a telephone call the same day from someone happy to deal with our inquiry.

We also found out that while Ombudsman Services is cheaper than TPO, costs mount if complaints against you are investigated.

Unlike TPO, it charges per business, not per branch, at a flat subscription of £150 per year, covering either or both sales and lettings. However, if a complaint against you leads to an investigation, that will add £260.

So, if you are for example the size of Countrywide, with 1,200 branches or so, and do not have a single complaint, then clearly, Ombudsman Services will work out far cheaper than TPO. For small local businesses with no or low levels of complaints, Ombudsman Services should prove economic. Even if you are a single office with no complaints against you, that too will work out cheaper.

However, if you are a single office and incur just one complaint against you that leads to investigation, you will be significantly out of pocket.

Another main difference between Ombudsman Services and TPO is that the former has no Code of Practice. It simply adjudicates.

Ombudsman Services, founded in 2003 (TPO began in 1990), deals in the communications, energy, property, Green Deal and copyright licensing sectors.

As far as the property sector is concerned, it is smaller than TPO with some 8,500 member firms, mainly RICS and ARMA firms. This overall number includes estate agents and lettings agents. It compares with 11,853 sales agency and 9,523 letting agency branches which belong to TPO (the large majority offering both sales and lettings).

Its property caseload is also much smaller than that of TPO, resolving 464 consumer complaints last year against TPO’s figure of 1,326.

In view of the interest generated, we thought we’d find out more about Ombudsman Services. Our Q & A session follows this story and we hope you find it helpful.

Last week’s story is here: