Property campaigner Ajay Jagota has launched what he calls a “stolen deposits totaliser” to keep track of how much cash crooked letting agents are convicted of stealing in 2017.
He says this year’s first example occurred last week when Julie Feilden admitted 13 counts of theft by employee at South East Suffolk magistrates court having embezzled close to £16,000 from her former employer, the Newmarket branch of Smiths Gore which went on to be acquired by Savills.
As lettings administrator, Feilden was responsible for collecting deposits from a number of tenants and placing them in a tenant deposit scheme, but stole various amounts - ranging from £450 to £3,012 – between March 2010 and September 2015.
The business was a member of industry body ARLA and subject to annual auditing.
Research by Jagota last year showed £1,018,100 of deposits were stolen in 2016 with at least one landlord or letting agent convicted every single month.
“£2.4 billion of the UK’s £3.2 billion rental deposits are held by lettings agents, with next-to-no supervision over what happens to that money. It’s far too easy for this money to be used illegally or inappropriately and this is a huge scandal waiting to happen” says Jagota, who has found Dlighted, which he describes as a “deposit-free renting solution.”
“Deposit money must be placed in a completely ring-fenced account and not touched by the agent or landlord for any business purpose. But there is a common belief in the industry that to do so is completely legitimate and as a result there are doubtless countless otherwise upstanding and honest agents who are misappropriating client money by mistake” he claims.
“If landlords and letting agents didn’t take cash deposits these crimes wouldn’t be possible and that’s why the deposit system needs urgent reform” he adds.