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Ombudsman revises Codes of Practice to address portal juggling

The Property Ombudsman scheme (TPO) has announced that it will be issuing updated versions of all its Codes of Practice on October 1.

The new codes will address what TPO describes as 'emerging industry issues', the most high profile of which is the practice known as 'portal juggling'.

Portal juggling is the phrase used to describe agents misleading consumers by removing and re-listing properties on portals to hide price discounts and give the impression a listing is new.

"Our Codes already state that all advertisements must be legal, decent, honest and truthful, but now go one step further to clarify that ‘portal juggling’, in its various forms, is misleading to consumers," says Gerry Fitzjohn, chairman of the TPO Board.

"Evidence of member agents found to be carrying out such poor practice could be reported to the Disciplinary and Standard’s Committee (DSC), NTSEAT and/or local Trading Standards."

In August, TPO teamed up with the National Association of Estate Agents and the Property Redress Scheme to endorse a statement issued by the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team, which warned agents against engaging in portal juggling and 'deliberately misleading home buyers'.

Other issues covered in TPO's revisions to its Codes of Practice include:

- Disclosure on pre-contract deposits: to clearly define the actions required, ensuring all parties involved in a pre-contract deposit arrangement have agreed to the terms and conditions attached to the payment.

- VAT on fees: to ensure all fees and charges are quoted inclusive of VAT.

- Disclosure of referencing: adding the provision that landlords receive all relevant facts, regardless of whether the tenant has met or failed to meet the referencing criteria. 

“The decision was taken to carry out a full review of the Codes to reflect market developments and provide clear definitions of unfair practices," adds Fitzjohn.

"As the industry changes, it’s necessary to release new versions of our Codes to ensure agents fully understand their responsibilities and adhere to best practice.”

The ombudsman, Katrine Sporle, will apply the new codes when reviewing complaints about events that occur after October 1. 

TPO says the revised guidelines will be covered in greater detail at its upcoming conference, taking place on October 12. 

All updated Codes of Practice can be viewed on the TPO website.

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