All this has, understandably, meant some tense and fraught exchanges between all of us stakeholders – clients, agents, advisers, lenders, conveyancers, surveyors – however there is a difference between a frank conversation and abuse.
Listening to some of the anecdotal evidence from across all parties, it is apparent that too often the line has been crossed recently and that is deeply concerning.
We should start by saying that this is still – thank goodness – a minority of cases but that number is growing. Those in the ‘firing line’ appear to be getting it with both barrels from a number of sources, not least clients themselves.
It seems somewhat ironic that in an age in which we are much more cognoscenti of mental health issues, workplace stress, mindfulness, bullying, etc., that I heard from one of our member firms recently that he has never seen clients in particular behaving as badly as they have over the last year or so.
Abuse of staff has become much more prevalent to such a point where firms are telling clients they need to go elsewhere because of their bad behaviour.
As mentioned, there is a difference between a normal enquiry about the progress of a case and screaming and shouting at staff in order to try and get that information, or trying to intimidate and bully conveyancers in order to get things moving. Even when, for the most part, the bottleneck in the case doesn’t lie with the conveyancer at all.
I’m sure this will feel familiar to agents reading this, especially at a time when there is a lack of resources across many stakeholders and when there is a need to find someone to blame and abuse for a case not progressing.
With all this going on – and there is certainly a need to educate clients and to manage expectations from all stakeholders in order to ensure no-one is subject to this – what we don’t want to see is those involved in the transaction exhibiting the same behaviours towards each other.
In that regard, it was interesting to read the views of the Head of Mortgages, Tony Hall, at Saffron Building Society, talking about the verbal abuse some of his employees had received recently as a result of it changing its service levels.
Now, again, you can understand adviser frustration – they have had a lot to contend with over the past few months in terms of lenders chopping and changing, and this is clearly going to impact on the service they can deliver to their clients. However, verbally abusing an employee at the lender who has probably little to do with the making of such decisions? Where does that get you?
I think it’s important to remember that there are human beings on the end of the phone. No-one – as far as I can tell – is going out of their way to impede a transaction, to purposefully slow it down, to throw obstacles in the way just to make other people have a really bad day.
Again, it will seem somewhat ironic to many people who work in organisations who espouse positive mental health, who were perhaps so aware of the mental health needs of their staff during the pandemic and lockdown, that they are either dealing with people abusing them or indeed part of a firm which allows its employees to talk this way to others who are merely trying to do the job.
To reiterate, we understand this has been a tricky period, but I think we have to take a zero tolerance policy to abuse of this kind, whether it is coming from clients, or anyone else involved in the property transaction process.
For the former it needs to be set out from the beginning of the relationship that any abuse of staff will result in them being told to go elsewhere, and for firms themselves they need to police their employees to ensure they do not stray into this kind of behaviour.
We can’t simply talk a good game when it comes to employee mental health and dealing with stress in the workplace. We have to walk the walk. No-one coming to work should have to deal with this, and the less we accept the abuse, the better chance we have of changing those behaviours.
*Beth Rudolf is Director of Delivery at the Conveyancing Association (CA)