Online agent defends failure to display EPC ratings on Rightmove listings

An online letting agent has defended its failure to display EPC ratings on some of its Rightmove listings, after EYE uncovered several examples of properties for which no rating was displayed, some of which had been on the market for months.

A reader contacted EYE to complain that online letting agent OpenRent was posting listings on Rightmove without providing details of an EPC rating.

EYE investigated and found that of OpenRent’s 48 most recent listings (as of February 16), seven did not have an EPC rating.

OpenRent responded that EPCs had been commissioned and would be added once a rating had been provided.

A spokesperson for OpenRent said: “As I’m sure you’re aware, the law in England and Wales is that an EPC has been ordered before it is marketed. It is not a legal requirement that the EPC has been completed or an efficiency grade awarded before it is marketed.

“As such the properties you’ve highlighted will be ones where the EPC is currently being obtained.

“Naturally as soon as a report is completed and the rating provided, this is added to the property advert; and further, as the law requires, the EPC must be completed and a copy of the report provided to the tenant before they move in.”

Government guidance allows a seller, landlord or agent to “use all reasonable efforts” to ensure the EPC is obtained within seven days.

A further 21 days is allowed “if after using all reasonable efforts the EPC cannot be obtained within seven days”.

The guidance adds: “The energy performance indicator of the building as shown on the EPC, for example, C, must be stated in any advertisements in the commercial media.

“Failure to do so could result in a fine of £200 per advertisement.”

While the majority of OpenRent’s older listings do carry an EPC rating, EYE found more examples of older adverts on Rightmove that did not have an EPC rating and sent them to OpenRent.

One was over 60 days old and the other over 150 days old.

The spokesperson said the examples looked “odd” and the company immediately updated them.

He added: “Checking over a set of our older ads this situation looks very rare (I can’t find any further examples other than those two, please let me know if you see any others), so I’m not sure what was stopping the EPC rating appearing on all sites.

“We are investigating to make sure something isn’t systematically stopping ratings being updated in Rightmove adverts as soon as they’re available.”

EYE yesterday found another 12 examples of OpenRent listings that appeared not to contain an EPC rating, ranging from 118 days old to 90 days old.

When contacted again with these examples, the spokesperson said: “These properties do have EPCs, so the issue is the grade not being pulled through automatically as expected.

“We are looking into it and will be able to put a fix in once we establish what’s not working as expected.”

Meanwhile, OpenRent contended that it was not the only agent to post listings without an EPC rating, and highlighted three examples from the Golders Green office of Winkworth, in London.

Those listings ranged from 40 days old to 30 days old.

A spokesperson for Winkworth said: “We’ve found that this issue is down to an administrative error.

“The relevant people have been notified and are looking into why the EPC ratings for these properties were not displayed. We continue to train all of our franchisees and their staff to ensure that they comply fully with all rules and regulations.”

ARLA Propertymark chief executive David Cox said it was his view that prospective tenants should only be allowed to click through for “more information” on properties advertised on portals that have an EPC certificate displayed on the site.

He said: “An EPC must be commissioned before a property can be marketed either for sale or for rent. It should be obtained within seven days of the property being marketed, but if there are any issues, a further 21 days are permitted.

“Once the certificate has been obtained, it must appear on any advertisement in commercial media and made available to anyone who requests it, or anyone who is viewing the property.

“To make this clear, landlords or letting agents cannot show any prospective renters the property, nor can they share any written information, until the EPC is available.

He added: “In summary, it is unlawful to market a property for which an EPC has not been commissioned, and there are sanctions in place to prevent this from happening.”

A spokesperson for Rightmove said: “Agents must ensure all listings adhere to all relevant industry legislation.”

See below for one of OpenRent’s listings found yesterday by EYE, which appeared to have been posted without an EPC rating:

Winkworth in line for greater-than-expected profits

Winkworth its pre-tax profits will be slightly ahead of market expectations at £1.3m, boosted mainly by its lettings business.

The agency franchise network used a trading update, ahead of disclosure of its full results for 2017 at the end of March, to reveal that expects its revenues to have dipped by just below 5% last year amid a slowdown in sales activity.

The update, which also announced a dividend of 1.85p per share for the fourth quarter of 2017, said: “As has been widely reported, the UK residential sales market experienced a reduced number of transactions in 2017.

“Against this challenging background, Winkworth is pleased to announce that, following further growth in its lettings business, the company’s total revenues for 2017 will be broadly in-line with market expectations.

“The revenue figure is expected to be less than 5% lower than 2016, a year which saw transactions in the first quarter boosted by buy-to-let investors completing purchases before the introduction of a higher rate of Stamp Duty.”

Winkworth said revenues in the second, third and fourth quarters of 2017 all grew year on year.

Dominic Agace, chief executive Officer of Winkworth, said: “At the national level, transactions were below average in 2017, although over the course of the year we experienced an improvement in activity in prime central London.

“Our lettings business is going from strength to strength and we are pleased to have proven the resilience of the brand under testing market conditions. While the outlook for the market in 2018 remains uncertain, we start the year with an increased number of offices and a pipeline of high quality applicants.”

Meanwhile, Winkworth has named Habitat for Humanity Great Britain as its official charity partner.

Habitat for Humanity already has the backing of a number of large businesses in the property industry, but Winkworth is its first UK estate agency partner.

 

Winkworth employee wins employment tribunal on age discrimination grounds

A woman who was told she might be “better suited to a traditional estate agency” was discriminated against because of her age, a tribunal has ruled.

Carolina Gomes worked as branch administrator for a Winkworth franchise.

She claimed constructive dismissal against Henworth, trading as Winkworth, and director Graham Gold.

The discrimination allegations were denied in evidence given by Gold, human resources adviser Fiona Mendel and lettings director Sean Doherty, where the focus was on Gomes’s work performance.

Gomes, born in 1956, had earlier worked for Bron and Morley, an estate agent trading as Winkworth in Hendon, north London, before transferring to Henworth, where she worked in its Hendon branch.

In February 2016, Doherty met with Gomes and told her she needed to take more care with her paperwork. Notes were taken of the meeting by Gold but not shown to Gomes.

This was following by another meeting, this time between Gomes and Gold the following month.

Saying “This marriage isn’t working”, Gold produced a letter typed to a solicitor, containing errors. He said a note would be placed on her performance record.

He added that she would be “better suited to a traditional estate agency”. Gomes took this to mean that he considered her too old to work at a modern Winkworth office and asked him what he meant.

He replied saying: “Sleep on it and decide what you want to do.”

A grievance procedure followed but Gomes resigned. A brief appeal meeting was held by telephone conference, with the appeal dismissed.

The tribunal described the appeal meeting as “perfunctory”.

It concluded that the comment “better suited to a traditional estate agency” would not have been made to a younger person, and therefore that the claimant had been discriminated because of age.

The case was decided in June, at Watford, and published on August 31. The results of a settlement hearing are unknown.

It has now featured in the HR magazine People Management, which quotes Laurie Anstis, senior associate solicitor at Boyes Turner: “This is a reminder to employers of the risks of using words that could be taken to be a reference to someone’s age.

“An age discrimination [claim] can be brought where the comments allude to an employee’s age, even if they do not directly refer to it.”

A spokesperson at head office told EYE that each Winkworth office is individually owned, operating its own HR and staff appraisal processes.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/599ed12de5274a28b57909a0/Ms_C_Gomes_v_Henworth_Ltd_t.a_Winkworth_Estate_Agents_3323775.2016.pdf