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On 1 January 1998, the opportunity for dissatisfied house buyers and sellers to have access to a free, fair and wholly independent complaints review procedure was substantially increased. The Ombudsman for Corporate Estate Agents (OCEA) Scheme, in being since September 1990, then became the Ombudsman for Estate Agents (OEA) Scheme. This reflected the success of discussions between the 10 remaining corporate Member Agencies of the OCEA Scheme and the three professional bodies in residential estate agency - the Incorporated Society of Valuers and Auctioneers (ISVA), National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Voluntary membership of the OEA Scheme became open - not only to all Corporate estate agencies, but to all companies where there is a principal, partner or director member of one of the above three professional bodies. In effect, therefore, all professionally recognised firms of estate agents in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are now able, if they so choose, to offer the advantages of OEA membership to their customers.

As at 1 May 2000, a total of 2560 offices from ten Corporate estate agencies and 1046 offices from Independent firms are currently signed up to the Scheme.

Consumer Guide
Member Agencies display the OEA logo and have available the Consumer Guide, which emphasises:

bulletThe independence of the Ombudsman from the Member Agencies.
bulletThat the OEA Scheme is devised to address disputes between Member Agencies and consumers (individuals acting in their private capacities) who are actual or potential Buyers or Sellers of residential property in the United Kingdom.
bulletAnd that the complaint may be considered by the Ombudsman where it is believed that a Member Agency has: infringed a consumer's legal rights, or not complied with the OEA Code of Practice; acted unfairly; or been guilty of maladministration (including inefficiency or undue delay) - in a way that has resulted in loss of money (up to 25,000) or inconvenience.
bulletThe Consumer Guide further explains those types of complaint, with which the Ombudsman cannot deal with. These include disputes over a survey and/or a formal valuation of a property, or over property letting and management - although plans to include these latter activities are well advanced. It further explains that complaints must be made in writing to the Member Agency concerned within 12 months, and referred to the Ombudsman's Office within 6 months of receipt of the final offer of settlement or observations of that Member Agency.
Code of Practice

The OEA Code of Practice, the provisions of which are mandatory on Member Agencies, has received the personal endorsement of the Director General of Fair Trading. An extract reads:

"I believe this Code of Practice will offer significant benefits to the many consumers buying or selling their homes and who may choose to use a member of the Ombudsman for Estate Agents Scheme.

The purchase or sale of a home is the largest and one of the most stressful transactions most consumers will make. It will be helpful for consumers to know they will receive a uniform standard of service from the estate agents who subscribe to this scheme. Furthermore, should consumers have problems with service from estate agents, they now know that they have access to help and, if need be, to redress under the auspices of the Ombudsman for Estate Agents."

Procedures exist to amend the Code of Practice in the light of recommendations from the Ombudsman or the industry; or in response to actual or intended legislation.


An individual with a complaint against a Member Agency must first exhaust the internal complaints procedure of that Member Agency before the Ombudsman is able to begin his Review of the case. The Ombudsman can then either seek an informal solution (agreeable to both parties) to the problem, or start a Formal Review procedure leading to his making an Award of financial compensation. Member Agencies have agreed to meet the terms of this, which could go up to 25,000 - provided the Award is accepted by the Complainant in Full and Final settlement of the complaint. If the Complainant is dissatisfied with the Ombudsman's recommendation, his/her legal rights have not been restricted in any way, and recourse to the courts or any other avenue of redress is still possible.

The Ombudsman

Mr. Stephen Carr-Smith assumed the appointment of Ombudsman on 1 August 1999.

The Ombudsman's independence is recognised by his voting membership of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association. It is guaranteed by his reporting to the OEA Council under the Chairmanship of The Baroness Mallalieu QC with a majority of eminent public figures and consumer experts (Margaret Dibben, Ramindar Singh, Jane Vass and Brian Yates); these are joined by the independent Chairman and one other representative from the OEA Board of Directors of the Member Agencies.

The Ombudsman's office in Salisbury currently receives some 150 new enquiries by letter or telephone each week. If you wish to know more about the OEA Scheme, please contact:

Office of the Ombudsman for Estate Agents
Beckett House
4 Bridge Street
Wiltshire SP1 2LX
Telephone: 01722 333306
Fax: 01722 332296
Website: www.oea.co.uk
E-mail: admin@oea.co.uk


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Last modified: November 23, 2002