The options available to the Property Ombudsman in investigating and settling complaints have been expanded in the latest updates to its terms of reference.
The headline changes to the Ombudsman’s terms of reference can be summarised as follows:
- Reasonable offers: Where an agent has made a reasonable offer in its final response to a complaint, the Ombudsman can indicate that it considers this to be the fairest outcome for all the parties and recommend acceptance of the offer. The Ombudsman can do this at the point of referral, and close the case without having to go through the formal review process.
- No detriment suffered: If the Ombudsman considers that a complaint does not have a reasonable chance of success and the complainant has not suffered financial loss or other detriment, then the Ombudsman can decline the case without having to investigate it further.
- Lack of proper engagement by the Complainant: If the complainant fails to provide requested information or otherwise fails to properly engage in the resolution process, the Ombudsman may end the investigation and close the case.
- Other approaches to resolution: The Ombudsman may order other approaches to the matter, such as conciliation or mediation.
The changes are hoped to achieve earlier resolution of complaints, with the added benefit of reducing waiting times. There are also opportunities to close complaints from vexatious complainants who do not engage properly with the resolution process.
James Burgoyne of Brunel Professions said, “The Ombudsman has made some welcome changes to its terms of reference to ensure that reasonable goodwill gestures are accepted and to allow claims to be discontinued if the other party does not engage reasonably with the resolution process.”
“Of concern, however, is the increased focus on alternative dispute resolution; member firms could find themselves locked into extended discussions, tying up hours of management time unprofitably if the Ombudsman orders mediation. This underlines the benefits to firms of early resolution, before matters escalate to the Ombudsman. It may be hoped that the Ombudsman will otherwise be swift to use its new powers with persistent and unmeritorious complainants.”
The Property Ombudsman has published its own statement regarding the changes which can be found here.