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81/12 13 September 2012
The OFT has today published guidance to help estate agents and others involved in property sales understand their responsibilities under consumer and business protection regulations.
It is aimed at all property sales businesses, from estate agents and property developers to intermediate websites that facilitate contact between buyers and sellers.
The guidance identifies examples of trading practices that could breach the regulations and includes practical steps that property sales businesses can take to comply with the law, for example:
The guidance specifically covers two pieces of existing legislation: Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs).
Non-compliance with the CPRs and BPRs may lead to enforcement action under the Enterprise Act 2002. This could see a trader give undertakings, or be subject to civil court proceedings, to stop breaching the regulations. It may also lead to criminal enforcement action, an unlimited fine and up to two years' imprisonment for a conviction in the Crown Court (or Sheriff Court in Scotland).
The guidance will assist traders and others (including enforcers and consumer advisers), especially in light of the Department for Business Innovation and Skill's announcement today that the government intends to repeal the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, which has largely been superseded by the CPRs and BPRs.
Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the OFT's Goods and Consumer Group, said:
'Buying and selling a property is usually one of the biggest purchases we make and can also be one of the most stressful. Unfair business practices can cause substantial losses or frustration to buyers and sellers either when transactions collapse or afterwards when the truth is uncovered.
'In response to feedback, this guidance has been developed with help from the property sales industry and Trading Standards Services, to provide clear and comprehensive, but practical, advice.'
Consumers concerned about the practices of an estate agent or other property sales business can contact Citizens Advice's consumer helpline on 0845 4040506 or visit www.advice.org.uk. Alternatively, complaints which consumers have not been able to resolve with the estate agent can be taken to an OFT-approved redress scheme. All estate agents must be registered with either the Property Ombudsman (visit www.tpos.co.uk or call 01722 333306) or Ombudsman Services: Property (visit www.ombudsman-services.org/property or call 01925 530270).
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