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TPO expels agent that treated rent and tenant deposits as their own money

A letting agency in Isleworth, West London, which was recently penalised for a number of offences, has been expelled from The Property Ombudsman Scheme (TPO).

The Drake Lawson Limited, trading as Alexander Reed, a sales and lettings agent in Isleworth, West London, was ordered to pay compensation to two buy-to-let landlords and a tenant after unlawfully withholding the tenant’s holding deposit, withdrawing a tenancy deposit from a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme without consent, and failing to pass rent on to a separate landlord. But the company has now been expelled from the TPO for non-payment of the compensatory awards.

The Ombudsman supported three cases against Alexander Reed, one complaint from a tenant and the other two from landlords, after the agent failed to co-operate with the investigation and failed to provide proof that they had met their obligations under the TPO Code of Practice.

The first complaint was raised by a tenant concerning the holding deposit which he paid. Having failed referencing, the tenant requested a refund, but the agent refused saying that the deposit was non-refundable in the event that he failed the application process, something the tenant maintained he had never received any documentation for.

The Ombudsman made an award of £300, a full refund, to reflect the fact that the agent couldn’t demonstrate that they had notified the tenant in writing of the circumstances in which the holding deposit would be forfeited, as required under paragraph 9k of the Code.

One landlord’s complaint concerned a number of issues including the unauthorised withdrawal of the tenant’s tenancy deposit from a recognised tenancy deposit scheme, a delay in the payment of rental income and the agent’s complaints handling system.

Not only did the agent withdraw the deposit, but it also failed to re-protect it, leaving the landlord exposed to the risk of his tenant taking him to court, failing to address payments with the tenant at an earlier point in time and not recording, acknowledging, investigating or responding to complaints, in accordance with Section 18 of the Code. An award of £500 was made.

The second landlord complaint related to the transferring of rent which was irregular. When the tenancy came to an end, it was apparent that the landlord had not received the remaining four months of rent, which the tenant had paid to the agent before vacating. The Ombudsman made an award of £3,946 which included the money owed and £200 compensation.

The agent, like all members of TPO, is obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman, and yet it failed to respond to the TPO or pay any of the three awards.

The Ombudsman referred the agent to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee which recommended the firm should be expelled from TPO and registration for redress.

Gerry Fitzjohn, non-executive director and chair of TPO’s finance committee, said: “All members of TPO are obliged to comply with awards made by the Ombudsman as well as co-operate with investigations, which Alexander Reed failed to do on all counts.

“It appears that the agent is not currently trading. There is no active website and no active Rightmove or Zoopla accounts, but as part of TPO’s role to provide better consumer protection, we feel it is important to raise awareness to cases such as these, in the event that Alexander Reed is still trading.”

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