A couple who ran a lettings agency have been jailed for a total of seven years after stealing over £400,000.
The case begs the question as to how much more evidence the Government needs in order to make Client Money Protection insurance mandatory.
The agency, Williams & Young, in Sutton Coldfield, is said on one online business directory to be a member of ARLA, NFOPP and NALS. However. we are checking these memberships.
Amy Williams, 28, received four and a half years in prison at Birmingham Crown Court. She had earlier pleaded guilty to 26 offences of theft and fraud.
She was also disqualified from being a director for seven years.
Glen Austin, 46, her boyfriend at the time, was jailed for two and a half years after pleading guilty to theft.
Both had been prosecuted by Birmingham City Council after its Trading Standard team received numerous complaints from landlords and tenants.
Between May 1, 2013, and July 17, 2015, Williams syphoned off more than £408,800 from the company’s account, and paid it into Austin’s bank account.
During this period Austin, who had a gambling habit, placed bets of over £600,000 with Ladbrokes.
When company funds began to run low, Williams started defrauding tenants directly, taking deposits and advance rent.
She also took money from different people for the same properties. After pocketing deposits and advance rent, people were simply left homeless.
Ben Mills, prosecuting, said: “They never got their tenancy and had nowhere to live.”
In one case involving a city centre flat, 12 unsuspecting victims were defrauded.
Nine landlords were also “systematically defrauded”.
Sentencing, Judge Philip Parker said that both tenants and landlords were left in an impossible position. Prospective tenants who had been conned out of their money and had nowhere to live had suffered “massive” stress.
Chris Neville, head of Trading Standards for Birmingham City Council, said: “This fraud was not only heartless, leaving landlords and tenants out of pocket, but it was foolish – using company funds to finance a string of bets to raise more money.
“Tenants paid deposits and advance rents to Williams & Young in good faith, and in some cases landlords were unaware this was the case as the money had not been passed on.
“This court action shows we will pursue and prosecute those unscrupulous individuals responsible, and I welcome the judge’s ruling in this case.”
The business, established in 2007, apparently handled lettings, management and sales.
It attracted a string of terrible reviews on allAgents.
As the law currently stands, there is nothing to stop the pair from returning to work in the lettings industry, or to set up as estate agents.
The case comes just days after an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill which will make it mandatory for letting agents to keep client money in separate accounts.
That same amendment could, should the Government subsequently decide, allow ministers to introduce mandatory Client Money Protection.
CMP is to be mandatory in Wales from November, when all agents will have to be licensed. They will not be able to get a licence without both PI and CMP insurance.
This month, EYE reported that a company called Whitefield Properties took rental money due to landlords and tenants’ deposits over a four-year period. The money was paid into the firm’s bank account and was, perhaps carelessly, not protected. It was reported that £123,000 of customers’ money went missing. The Staffordshire firm, with branches in Milton, Leek and Crewe, went into administration in 2014.