Using an ombudsman has long been a pretty successful way of trying to resolve a complaint with a property firm without going to court, but Ombudsman Services (OS) sprung a surprise yesterday when it announced that it was withdrawing from complaints handling in the property sector as it launches a major dialogue with consumers to help tackle what it described as an ‘imbalance in power’ in the housing sector.
The not-for-profit organisation, which also operates in the communications and energy sectors, is one of several services which clears up disputes in the property sector, including the Property Ombudsman and the Housing Ombudsman Service.
OS will begin a managed withdrawal from the existing schemes it operates for surveyors, managing agents, estate agents and letting agents by 6 August 2018.
OS envisages a similar model currently used in the Finance and Energy sectors; an effective regulator supported by a single ombudsman and a strong advice and advocacy service for consumers.
To ensure that the new model addresses issues currently faced by consumers, OS wants to consult with the public about the shape of the service, understand key ‘pain points’ for renters, tenants and homebuyers and model potential demand.
OS’s chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith commented: “Redress in the housing sector is a really confusing picture for all involved. The patchwork of ADR and ombudsman schemes is a mystery to consumers and therefore is incredibly difficult for them to navigate.
“We are ceasing what we’re currently doing in the housing sector in a professional and planned way, because we believe it is not adding value. Rather than continue to offer a broken solution to a broken market, we are stepping away to listen to what consumers actually want.
“There are models in other sectors that work far better – for instance the single ombudsman model in financial services and the scheme we operate in energy which handles around 40,000 complaints every year.
“We fully support Sajid Javid regarding the need for a single ombudsman for housing – only then will the housing sector be able to restore trust and ensure that consumers get a much better standard of service.
“Housing is one of the biggest issues we face as a nation and a fair, balanced, redress system will make sure that it serves the whole of society. We want to work to develop a model that works for everyone.”