Recently we sat down with Sean Hooker, Head of Redress (Ombudsman), Property Redress Scheme to find out what the new service is all about and how it can benefit not just agents but landlords and tenants as well.
Q) Hi Sean, for those that haven’t heard of it, what is the Property Redress Scheme (PRS)?
A) The PRS is an independent company authorised by the government to resolve complaints from consumers (i.e. landlords and tenants) of letting agents in England. What that means effectively, is added protection for consumers, if they feel their letting agent hasn’t dealt with their complaint satisfactorily then it can be escalated to the PRS to review and resolve the issue.
Q) What do agents need to know about the PRS?
A) As of October 1 2014 every agent will need to register with one of the three government Redress Schemes of which the PRS is one. To widen its appeal and in order to offer agents a choice, we are offering the Scheme with a two-tier membership option: Entry and Enhanced.
The Entry model costs £95.00 (plus VAT) per application (head office) plus £95.00 (plus VAT) per branch.So, if you have a head office and two branches, for example, that will require three subscriptions (£285.00 plus VAT). There are also subsequent complaint charges which can be found on the website.
The Enhanced model is an ‘all in’ model which costs £199 (plus VAT) and includes the annual fee and all complaints, subject to a fair usage policy.
Q) What sets the PRS apart from the other schemes available?
A) Essentially we want agents who haven’t joined a Scheme (of which is about 40% of England’s agents) to know that the Scheme is easy to join, simple to use and without any barriers. We’re affordable, we don’t ask anyone to have compulsory insurances, we won’t have a separate code of conduct as we’ll follow the government authorised one prescribed by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and we’re accessible and easy to comply with.
On top of that we will work with our customers to develop and enhance the Scheme as it grows.
Q) What are the benefits of joining the PRS?
A) Having a third party redress scheme in place for agents gives reassurances to their customers that any reconcilable differences they may have, will have a resolution at the end of it. The main benefits of joining are if they were to handle complaints swiftly and professionally they can enhance their business.
The other incentive to join is that the agent won’t be fined by their local authority for non-compliance. Having a third party redress scheme in place gives reassurances to their customers that any reconcilable differences they may have, will have a resolution at the end of it.
Also members will not have to sign up to any trade organisations or adhere to a specific code of conduct. If you are not a member of a trade association or organisation then we will rely on standard industry practice when resolving a complaint.
Q) What happens to an agent who hasn’t joined a scheme by October 1?
A) Essentially the local authority wherever they are based has the power to enforce and issue a mandatory £5000 fine. If the agent persists on not paying then the local authorities can continue to fine them before seeking an injunction from the council to close the agent down.
Q) What do landlords and tenants need to know and how will it affect them?
A) They need to know that their agent must be a member of one of the three Schemes and that the Scheme is there to protect them. If they feel dissatisfied with the service they’ve received or how they’ve been treated by their agents then they have somewhere where they can go to discuss the issues and get the matter or matters resolved.
The most important message for any landlord and tenant is that if any agent is not being compliant then they are taking a big risk and we’re here to help everyone involved to resolve issues.
To join the Property Redress Scheme or to find out any more information visit http://www.theprs.co.uk/ or call 0333 321 9418.