The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has released its annual report for 2018, showing that for the first time the value of awards paid by agents eclipsed £2 million last year.

The £2.17 million awards total dwarfs the £1.36 million paid out by agents last year and has more than doubled since 2016.

TPO also reveals a 16% rise in the number of complaints made against estate and letting agents last year.

Last year, TPO received a record number of enquiries (29,023), up 22% on the previous year.

Some 4,246 of these went on to be formal complaints, 2,782 of which were supported by the Ombudsman and 2,381 of which required a financial award to be paid to the consumer.

In the lettings market, 2,757 complaints were resolved, with 66% of cases supported by TPO. Some 54% of complaints were received from landlords and 42% from tenants.

The highest proportion of lettings complaints were recorded in Greater London (20%) and South East England (17%).

The total lettings award for 2018 was £1,543,848, with £16,291 being the largest award paid by a lettings agent. The average lettings award made by TPO in 2018 was £845.

The top causes of lettings complaints were communication and record keeping, management, tenancy agreements, inventories and deposits and complaint handling.

Property Ombudsman Katrine Sporle says that the rise in complaints does not necessarily mean that agents’ standards are slipping.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of their rights, particularly off the back of the government’s consultation into strengthening redress in the housing market, and subsequent media publicity on the future of consumer protection and driving out poor practice in the industry.”

“Overall, 2018 represented a year of growth and improvement and as we look ahead to 2019, I’m confident that TPO will continue to raise standards, update our Sales and Lettings Codes of Practice to reflect new legislation and meet whatever challenges the industry faces,” she says.