Complaints about agents to the Property Ombudsman rose last year by 12%, while the number of complaints about estate agents specifically also rose, as did the number that went on to review.
In 2012, the Ombudsman received a total of 15,782 complaint inquiries, a 12% increase from 2011 when there were 14,066 complaints.
The increase of 1,716 initial complaints was compounded by a 39% increase in the number of cases referred for formal review or early resolution (up from 1,419 in 2011 to 1,970 last year).
The increased workload caught the service out, Ombudsman Christopher Hamer admitted. He had forecast the workload to be 16% less, which meant longer times to review complaints. He said: “We are gradually bringing the situation back to a more acceptable level.”
While initial complaints about estate agents who are members of the Property Ombudsman scheme fell, overall complaints increased, because of a rise in complaints about estate agents who were not TPO members.
Altogether, there were 4,261 initial inquiries relating to sales, compared with 8,334 relating to lettings. The 4,261 figure is the highest since 2008 when there were 6,067 complaints.
Despite the drop in sales-related complaints against TPO estate agents and which could therefore be dealt with, there was an increase of 7.5% in those that went on to review. Altogether, 631 cases progressed to the formal review stage.
The overwhelming cause of complaints related to service (68%), while 22% were about unfair business practices and 16% of complaints were about fees.
Most of the complaints (419) were made by sellers, against the 177 complaints made by buyers and the 28 complaints by third parties. In total, 39.1% of complaints were not upheld, against 60.9% that were upheld.
The figure of 380 complaints that were upheld last year was up on the 324 complaints upheld in 2011.
By the end of last year, there were 11,933 sales agents signed up to TPO.