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Disputes between real estate agents and customers fall in UK

The figures show a decrease of 38% compared with the last quarter of 2008 but this is not a surprise as the number of property sales have also fallen.

But disputes involving letting agents has increased slightly, the figures from the Property Ombudsman show. They have increased 3% in 2009 so far but this is marginal compared with the 200% rise over the whole of 2008 when many more agents joined the redress scheme.

As in 2008, the most prominent reasons for disputes arising from lettings related to the standards of referencing carried out by agents, whether or not inspection visits had taken place and, to a lesser extent, administration of the deposit, said the ombudsman Christopher Hamer.

During the first quarter of 2009, he received 3,157 enquiries regarding disputes with estate agents, both for sale and lettings, up from 3,011 in the last three months of 2008. As a result, 102 new cases were opened regarding sales and 90 involving lettings.

Lettings agents are not required to join a redress scheme such as The Property Ombudsman through legislation, unlike sales agents, but the numbers joining continue to rise, making them subject to the Property Ombudsman's Lettings Code of Practice.

The Office of Fair Trading is being asked to recognise The Property Ombudsman lettings Code of Practice under its Consumer Codes Approval Scheme which will ensure consistency in the standards of services delivered across both the sales and lettings markets. It would also mean that both Property Ombudsman codes had received independent scrutiny and accreditation, enhancing their credibility for consumers.

By the end of March, 2009, 5,639 lettings offices in the UK had voluntarily joined the Ombudsman scheme compared with 5,100 at the start of the year, a rise of 10.5%.

Hamer is now visiting agents around the UK to discuss how he deals with cases and explain to member agents how legislative changes will impact on the practices of the scheme.