Over the course of a tenancy, you are likely to have reason to complain to your letting agent. Often, repairs take a long time, whilst communication is poor, fees are astronomical, and landlords or agents may be engaging in harassing or intimidating behaviour.
Complaints have their limitations. They take a while to process, whilst agencies can effectively rig the process in their favour (because in the first instance, they investigate themselves), and really aggressive ones might lie to your landlord and recommend that they evict you because you’ve complained. We’ve seen it happen.
Whilst limited, complaints can be useful. Most agencies will find lying to a landlord too risky for one reason or another – they might get caught out, or the landlord might not believe them, or the landlord might just choose to ignore them. What’s useful about complaining to your agency is that, done in the right way, it can force them to compensate you in some way for the issue you’re complaining about.
This is particularly true if you inform them that you intend to take the complaint to what is called the Property Ombudsman if you don’t get the result you want. The Property Ombudsman is a government body that regulates letting agencies. If your agency has messed you around and not responded to your complaint in the way you’d like, you can complain about them to the Property Ombudsman, who can compel the agency to take certain kinds of action (e.g. paying you compensation).
There are two types of Ombudsman; one called The Property Ombudsman and one called The Property Redress Scheme. Agencies have to be part of one of them; most are part of The Property Ombudsman. It should say on your agency’s website which one they’re part of.
How should I complain?
If you’re going to complain to your agency, you need to make it clear that what you’re telling them is a complaint. State this to them in your email or letter to them. You should also ask to see their complaints procedure, which they have to have and have to provide you with. As per the guidelines of The Property Ombudsman, they should acknowledge your complaint within three working days, and give you a formal written outcome within fifteen working days.
You have to go through the internal complaints procedure before you take your complaint to the Ombudsman. If you don’t get the outcome you want from the initial investigation, they have to tell you if there is any other way you can pursue your complaint within their business (e.g. if there is another stage of the complaints procedure, such as a review by a more senior member of staff). If there is, the outcome of this again has to be sent to you within fifteen working days.
At this point, the agency should tell you their final view on the matter, as well as explaining how you can take the complaint further with the Ombudsman.
You may find the following template letter useful for making an initial complaint:
Please consider this an official complaint. Please also provide me with a copy of your complaints procedure.
[The details of your complaint]
[If it’s about a maintenance issue, you may find sections 10 and 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 useful to quote from. Section 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015 may also be useful, which states that a landlord/agency must respond to a maintenance issue within 14 days, explaining what they are going to do to sort it out and how long it’s going to take. You can also look at these two sections of the Brighton Solidarity Federation website for more information on your rights as a tenant in relation to disrepair:
[If it’s about fees, you may find the SolFed information on holding deposits useful: http://www.brightonsolfed.org.uk/housing-union?qt-new_housing_union_tabs=2#qt-new_housing_union_tabs. You may also find the section on fees useful: http://www.brightonsolfed.org.uk/housing-union?qt-new_housing_union_tabs=3#qt-new_housing_union_tabs.
Another useful document is the Competition and Markets Authority’s Guidance for Lettings Professionals, which outlines what agencies can and cannot charge for, how they should advertise these fees, the situations in which these fees should be refunded, and so on: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/319820/Lettings_guidance_CMA31.PDF]
In light of these issues, I would like the following:
[list what you want – it might a repair; it might be compensation; it might be a rent reduction; it might be something else. It can be useful to link what you are asking for back to the legislation they have breached, e.g. ‘I would like my agency fees to be refunded because the property was not ready for habitation when I moved in. Guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority suggests that agency fees should be refunded in this situation].
I intend to take my complaint to The Property Ombudsman if I do not receive a satisfactory response from your internal complaints procedure.
What if they don’t give me what I want?
Remember that they should give you a written response within fifteen working days of receiving the complaint. If they don’t give you what you want, you can ask for it to be investigated again, which they have another fifteen working days to do.
At that point, if they still haven’t given you what you want, you can take it to the Ombudsman. You can email your complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your original complaint and their response, and explain why you’re not happy with it. The Ombudsman will try to reach an informal resolution with the agency – hopefully telling the agency it’s best for them to just pay up, make the repair, or whatever it may be. If not, it can take up to three months for The Property Ombudsman to reach a ruling.
Can I get any help with this?
Yes – we run a drop-in once a month, on the final Sunday of the month, at the Phoenix Community Centre in Brighton (2 Phoenix Place, BN2 9ND), from 2.15-3.30pm. If you come along, we can give you a hand with the paperwork. You can also contact us at email@example.com, and if we have the capacity, we can give you a hand with it via email.
What is Brighton Solidarity Federation Housing Union?
Brighton Solidarity Federation Housing Union is a group of people working together to improve our living conditions in the here and now. We're not legal experts or housing specialists - we're just ordinary people who want to improve our housing situations. We want to build a strong movement so that together we can challenge the extortionate rents and agency fees, and use direct action and self-organisation to put a stop to the scams, swindles and tricks of landlords and letting agents. We started our Housing Union in June 2017, because of the poor living conditions, rising rents, rip off agency fees, unsuitable, unsafe, or overcrowded accommodation, indifference from landlords, harassment, eviction, or often, a combination of these factors, in Brighton.
Our help is solidarity, not charity: we know how difficult these situations are because we live in insecure housing and we’ve been there too. We help out not because we want to solve your problem for you, but because we want to help you feel empowered to take on your letting agent – ideally with the support of your friends and family, as well as ourselves. Our hope would be that gaining this confidence would mean that you pass this knowledge and support on to your friends, so that we can form a network of those in insecure housing situations with the confidence and knowledge to support one another, look out for one another, and fight back against exploitation.
The Property Ombudsman’s Code of Practice, including information on how agencies should handle complaints: https://www.tpos.co.uk/images/documents/rules-codes-obligations/residential-letting-agents/Code_of_Practice_for_Residential_Letting_Agents_-_Effective_1_October_2016.pdf