Complaints against estate agents surged to record levels in 2002, up by 15% on the previous year to more than 6,000, The Guardian's Jobs & Money section revealed last week.
According to the Estate Agents Ombudsman, estate agents beat their previous record for complaints in 2001, when the total rose by 25%, despite an ongoing investigation into the industry by the Office of Fair Trading. Six agents were banned from doing business last year by the OFT following serious breaches of the Estate Agents Act.
Comprehensive figures on the type of complaints made to the ombudsman, Stephen Carr-Smith, will be revealed in March when he publishes his annual report. However, Carr-Smith told The Guardian that he was concerned at the latest rise. He says: “Complaints against non-members of the [ombudsman] scheme were up by 19%. There are more and more each year. This year is continuing last year's trend and the backlog of complaints has also increased.”
More than half of the 6,000 complaints he received last year were made against non-members of the scheme. Because the scheme is voluntary the ombudsman can't investigate complaints against the two-thirds of agents who have not signed up.
Of the complaints that qualified for the ombudsman's scrutiny, the majority were about the fees charged by agents and of the level of service received. Where the ombudsman finds against an agent, he has the power to award compensation of up to £25,000.