Departure of former Countrywide lettings director nothing to do with £10m client funds affair

The departure of Countrywide’s former lettings director was totally unconnected to the accounting of ‘orphan funds’ that led to a disciplinary hearing.

That is the implication to be drawn from a Countrywide press statement issued yesterday afternoon. It relates to John Hards, praising him for his work, and saying his departure related “only” to the completion of a project on the tenant fees ban.

While the statement did not mention last week’s disciplinary hearing, it appeared to clarify that Hards had nothing to do with the accounting practice which landed the group in hot water and, by its own admission, threatened to bring the RICS into disrepute.

At last week’s RICS panel, Countrywide admitted having transferred over £10m of untraced client money from its lettings business into a group office account over a ten-year period.

The business was fined £100,000 and given a reprimand. It also agreed to publicity of the case.

The hearing was told that an unidentified person or persons at senior level and no longer with the company had been responsible for the policy, and that no deceit had been involved.

Countrywide has not named the senior personnel involved.

Nor has it so far revealed whether it has paid all or some of the £10m to charity, in line with the RICS guidance. There has been, as yet, no RNS statement to the stock market.

However, yesterday afternoon it issued a press statement thanking its former lettings director John Hards for his work in preparing the company for the tenant fees ban.

Hards came out of a short-lived requirement in 2018 to rejoin Countrywide as national lettings director after retiring the previous year, and finally left at the end of this September.

Yesterday’s statement in full:

Countrywide plc, the UK’s leading integrated property services provider, is pleased to announce the transition into a post tenant fee ban world.

The tenant fee ban was introduced on 1 June 2019 in England followed by 1 September 2019 in Wales.

John Hards, National Lettings Director, re-joined Countrywide in March 2018 with the specific task of leading the project in order to deliver a programme of services, products and training for the Group in line with the introduction of the tenant fee ban.

These included: Enhanced colleague training with a focus on the new regulations; improved referencing; improved technology and the introduction of zero deposit for tenants.

The project, which ran from April 2018 to end September 2019, supports the introduction of the new legislation prohibiting landlords and their tenants from charging a number of fees.

John joined Countrywide in 1994 with the acquisition of Nationwide and was delighted to be asked to return last year to drive and deliver the introduction of the new regulation.

“Having worked with ARLA and the Lettings Industry Council, John was well placed to understand our business, our people and the new regulations,” said Paul Chapman, national managing director of sales and lettings.

“It was great to have John back on board working with the teams to really understand the ban, what it would mean to us and how we could introduce and embed the changes across all of our lettings businesses.”

“John left the business at the end of September having successfully delivered the final phase of the project with the roll out of the Welsh tenant fee ban on 1 September. His departure date was pre-agreed and relates only to the successful delivery of the project.

“He continues to act as a consultant for LetCheck, a property inventory business, and is a Director at Propoly, the online lettings company. He is also a member of the Lettings Industry Council and has a number of consultancy projects due to start in January.

“I would like to thank John for all his hard work in delivering this complex project across our business. We wish him all the best for his new consultancy roles and will certainly be calling on his expertise to work with us again in the future.”

Hards said: “Countrywide is a great business to be part of. The people, the network and complementary products are unrivalled and I was delighted to be asked to return to lead such a large project.

“I look forward to working with them again on the next one.”

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4 Comments

  1. Industry insider

    This huge RICS fine and the poor behaviour about these funds is very bad news for Countrywide.
     
    For Countrywide to suggest that experienced Directors didn’t know this was happening over many years is ridiculous. They 100% should have known – it is a key requirement for running a lettings function and has been for decades.
     
    Some senior Countrywide Directors have run the business in a shocking way recently. In my local town they’ve gone from being the number 2 firm to no longer existing here – that type of failure is terrible

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    1. smile please

      0.01% Admin fee to RICS is not too huge fine for £10 million.

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  2. s71

    Just Wondering……… How many other agents have clients money sitting around after 6 years !!!

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  3. WiltsAgent

    Looks like that statement may have been written by Mr Hards lawyer. Quite right too.

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