News & Blog

One Ombudsman to rule them all - but who will this protect?

I was interested to read the press release from the outgoing redress scheme Ombudsman Services - Property (OS:P) who will cease to operate from midnight on 6th August 2018. Property Industry Eye article can be read here.

 

OS:P has also called for a simplification of the “baffling patchwork” of consumer redress in the sector. Not surprisingly they offer themselves as the solution with ambitions to be the all-embracing super ombudsman.

They have been joined in the chorus by the Property Ombudsman who with their relationship with Propertymark are looking to carve out their territory.

In the background the consumer campaigning organisation Which? have published a report highlighting what they believe are the failings of the industry..

Whilst I welcome this debate, OS:P pulling out has caused disruption for good firms that thought they were doing the right thing. To me OS:Ps calls for a one stop shop for property complaints and also those of TPO, feel quite monopolistic.

Far from radical reform and introducing the changes that are needed, this smacks of a re-establishment of the status quo.

At least the Which? report puts the consumer at the heart of their analysis and whilst you may not agree with it, they have no vested interest in the market.

With talk of an “ombudsman omnishambles” and the various positioning of the organisations and bodies in the sector, the chances of finding a consensus remain slim.

Ironically the archaic meaning of “shambles” is a slaughterhouse and the victim in this case could be a further erosion of the integrity of the profession. As Shakespeare’s  Othello curtly responded to wife Desdemona’s assertions of being honest, with the retort “as summer flies are in the shambles.", the credibility of the industry is under greater scrutiny than it has ever been.

Where then does that leave the Property Redress Scheme? Where do we stand? We have been relatively quiet on this front, concentrating on getting on with the job and contributing to the consultations and discussions with government behind the scenes rather than on the pages of the press. However that does not mean we take this matter lightly and are fighting for a better industry with the customer at its heart.  

 

When the PRS was created over four years ago, it provided choice, a reduction in the price of redress and healthy competition. All the schemes were regulated by the authorities and backed by the law along with punishment for noncompliance. However firms could chose the scheme that best suited them. It has worked very well with the PRS now having nearly 8,000 members. Mandatory client money protection is also coming thanks in part to our work to get it on the statute book and along with insurance for professional indemnity this will strengthen the consumers’ chances of mitigating their losses.

 

The journey is not yet complete as we need better regulation than we have at the moment - but do we need codes no-one reads? - tests from which nothing is learned? - and laws that are not enforced?

 

Just making a single scheme the one and only but not changing the way things are done will just lead to the same old, same old. Adopting a one size fits all regulatory body, based on the voluntary model that was designed for and suits the larger firms and the mainstream part of the industry could mean that their interests are served but smaller agents, new start-ups and innovators in the sector could struggle to emerge and thrive. 

 

I accept that the consumer has to have a clear and understandable pathway and we have been working with National Trading Standards to create a single portal by which a complainant can be signed posted in the right direction. A coordinated process of consumer assistance, genuine professional training and education and enforcement of the laws could evolve out of this approach whilst allowing for innovation and expertise to be developed that improved the sector. 

The consumer deserves more protection and the property world needs to adapt, improve and raise its standards, however what we need is good regulation not self-interested protectionism. What are your thoughts?   

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