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All property agents and professionals carrying out estate, lettings and property management work in the property industry have a legal responsibility to join an authorised redress scheme and signpost this to their customer. But how does it work in practice, and what do we do on a day-to-day basis? Here, Property Redress Scheme (PRS) compliance officer, Neil Pumfrey, talks us through a day in the life of a PRS compliance officer.
At the PRS, we provide a means to resolve consumer disputes about estate agents, letting agents and property managers. Our decisions include awarding compensation or requiring members to do things, like providing documents, a meaningful apology, or explanations for certain actions. Once the process has been completed, it will move to the compliance stage and once the decision has been settled, the case will be closed.
In simple terms, we have a two-step process of:
reminding members of the deadline to comply with the decision, in line with our Conditions of Complaints guide, which sets out the conditions for raising a complaint against one of our members; the reasons why the complaint may be declined and the responsibilities of both parties once a complaint has been received by us at the PRS
managing the disciplinary process for those who do not comply, detailed in our Terms of Reference
Most members settle the awards and move on, however, a minority do not for a number of reasons. These include their current cash flow situation, where they have stopped trading or intend to and occasionally, they simply refuse as they disagree with our decision.
My day starts calmly by looking at the list of cases which are coming to the end of their compliance deadline. The next part of the day is the bulk, where I will try to contact members and consumers, by telephone and email, to confirm whether the member has fully complied. During these conversations, I may need to:
signpost consumers to other places for help and advice
remind members that we will issue penalty notices as a first warning for missing the compliance date
let those members know that if they ignore the warning they will be suspended
Like with everyone’s day there are highs and lows. For me, most days are spent on the phone with members, confirming that they have complied, and happy consumers who have received their awards. I have even had consumers in tears with relief that they have received what they felt entitled to.
The downside is the frustration of dealing with a member who obstructing the process. Sometimes members lack the understanding of how compliance works, and what they have signed up to. This can take time to explain and may be the reason why the team sometimes refer to me as ‘the enforcer’, when they hear me on a difficult call.
When a member chooses, point blank, not to comply with the decision, I prepare a report for the Head of Redress and the company director, who have the power to agree that we cancel their membership and expel them from the scheme.
I am also a detective, searching out any previously expelled members that do rejoin the scheme using a different business name, which is referred to as ‘phoenixing’. When I discover any of these businesses, I will immediately recommend they be expelled.
In this scenario, we let the member know that they have been expelled, what they need to do to be re-instated and what the consequences are of continuing trading with no redress membership.
Following the expulsion, I prepare and send a report to National Trading Standards, who will investigate:
the business to make sure they are not trading without being a member of a redress scheme, for which they can receive a fine of up to £5000.00 for each offence
the reasons and extent of the poor practice and what measures need to be taken
To finish my day, I will then send the Property Ombudsman an email report with details of any expulsions, to make sure the business does not try to join the only other redress scheme. There is a Memorandum of Understanding between the PRS and the Property Omubdsman which the two schemes have agreed, which helps to make sure bad businesses first comply with awards made about their bad practices, and hopefully reflect on the way they carry out their business in future. It is at this point we will consider allowing them to rejoin the scheme and continuing to practise.
While no two days are ever the same, just being part of a team, knowing that our decisions can make big differences to people’s lives and improve the industry makes me feel valued.
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Property Redress Scheme is approved by Government under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015