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Written by rosalind renshaw

Heavy fines or a long jail term for the boss of fraudulent Oxford letting agent Charles Lawson have been welcomed by the head of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme as sending the right message to rogue agents.

“At last the courts are taking letting agent fraud seriously and handing down deterrent sentences,” said Steve Harriott, chief executive of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.

“For too long, courts have been imposing lenient sentences on agents who steal tenants’ deposits and landlords’ rents and management floats.”

Zulfigar Hussain, formerly of Charles Lawson Lettings and James C Penny in Oxford, was ordered to pay more than £300,000 in fines, compensation and penalties under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Failure to repay his victims within six months could result in three years in jail. Hussain was also given a nine-month sentence suspended for two years.

This is in contrast to the suspended jail sentences handed down last autumn to the boss and his book-keeper of Worcester-based Premier Places. At the time these were described by Harriott as ‘a kick in the teeth’ for the defrauded tenants and landlords.

Harriott said: “Every step taken to hound the very small minority of fraudulent agents who rob tenants and landlords and destroy confidence in the great majority of letting agents who are professional, honest and ethical, helps the whole industry.

“The reputation of the regulated professionals in the private rented sector must be protected.”


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    I'm pretty certain that Richard Morgan Davies & Gemma Coles are married by now. DO NOT TRUST THEM THEY SET UP ANOTHER ESTATE AGENT AND RAN OFF WITH PEOPLES MONEY!!!!!

    • 25 April 2013 11:17 AM
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    DO NOT TRUST or go anywhere near Richard Davies or Gemma Coles. Gemma Coles may be Gemma Davies may now be married.

    But the have closed down TWO estate agents now and ran off with quite a few peoples money. This is not slander it is absolute FACT so should not be removed as this is a warning for anyone dealing with them in business or anything to do with property.

    • 05 October 2012 15:31 PM
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    And so to back to my original point Matt, that "issue" from my last post is on the very latest iteration of one of the most extensive software packages available.
    The small issue is that is does not add £20 VAT to £100 Net of Vat and come up with a total of £120 and so Statements sent to Landlords are incorrect (for which the agent is responsible)
    This issue was easy to spot with a single property with a single transaction, but many landlords have multiple properties and multiple transactions so both staff and principals will easily miss the miscalculation leaving them vulnerable through no fault of their own.
    It is apparent that, despite your claim that Client Cash Accounting is easy, the complexities of the software to make it easy means that the various software systems are so detailed that they are not being properly tested. It is also apparent that the staff trying to support the various packages need a far better understanding of the industry before passing advice that also leads to difficulties
    Perhaps one of the things that could be added to the SAFEAgent agenda is a commercially independent review of the systems that Agents are trusting to keep them out of strife.

    • 21 February 2012 15:03 PM
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    In answer to the second question, every one does but ultimatley the owner/director of the business has to take the overall responsibility.

    They should have responsibility and control over their staff members, this is not to say that the staff members are totally devoid of responsibility and if they are continually not picking up this error should face disceplinary action. Mistakes obviously do happen but if reviewed on a regular basis can usually be corrected quite easily.

    The owner/director also has a responsibility to make sure they have a suitable software package in place to service the basic needs of their business, which client accounting is. There is some very good (and expensive) letting software out there and owners have a duty to their clients to make sure they are looking after the client's money and if this means they have to spend £1000's each year on suitable software to do so, so be it.

    • 21 February 2012 13:00 PM
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    What is the total figure of £100 plus vat?

    A. £100.00
    B. £117.50
    C. £120.00

    For those of you who correctly answered C. Well done!

    How come any agent would send out a statement to a landlord showing "A" as the correct answer?

    Off the back of that minor issue , who is responsible for mis-reporting to the landlord Is it?

    A. The Owner, Principal, Partner, Directors of the agency.
    B. The Staff who are sending out the statements
    C. The software supplier.

    • 21 February 2012 09:12 AM
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    @Robert May

    As written by yourself!!!

    "Before you condemn Mr Hussain and Mr Weston just wonder if you are 100% confident of your own balances and procedures. "

    I don't think I am making things up, do you????

    Again, I never said that only one person should have access to look after the clients accounts...but one person should be responsible for it on a day to day basis, have you heard the term too many cooks spoil the broth?. As I also said we have two people who have full access to service the clients account, but one of those generally looks after the day to day running.

    At the end of the day, the lettings business should be regulated and agents forced to their accpounts audited at least annually. This will hopefully cut down on the number of crooks and these "mistakes".

    • 20 February 2012 08:11 AM
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    Matt, I think you need to read my posts and not look at them and make up what I have said.

    I Did not state anything about Mr Weston or Mr Hussain.

    My comments about your post relate to the fact that you stated that a trained person (singular) can run a client account, it is not possible to operate best practice client cash accounting with one person receipting monies and then reconciling their own receipts.

    You can flame me or attempt to discredit what I am saying if you like but do so with the backing of someone from your professional body who is prepared to come on here and say that a client cash account can be safely run by 1person as you have indicated is possible in your posts.

    • 17 February 2012 23:23 PM
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    @Ray Comer- As I said earlier, it is easy to spot these mistakes and correct if you reconcile after everytime you receive or pay out money from the client account.

    If the people responsible for looking after clients funds can't do the simple task of checking...they shouldn't be looking after clients money...simple as that!

    • 17 February 2012 09:30 AM
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    I know someone who worked for them and they never received a pay-slip, some didn't get paid and when the police were investigating the company the employees and ex-employees were threatened to keep their mouths shut.

    They were a joke in the local area and an absolute disgrace to the professional.

    As Another Lawson Victim says Trading Standards took far to long to bring these criminals to justice.

    Do we really have to add more reasons to why industry regulation is absolutely necessary??!!

    • 17 February 2012 09:15 AM
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    I think there is some truth in what Robert says, in so much that it is easy to make an error and credit the wrong account. If one was to keep making that error and made no effort to check then is is feasible to lose quite a lot of money. I've seen it happen in agencies I've worked for, the skill is in spotting it and putting it right.

    But that isn't the case here at all, the money would have been found by now if it had been paid to other people in 'error'. The fact that it hasn't is probably due to it not being an error at all but an attempt to defraud people out of their money, which is why it ended in a criminal prosecution.

    • 17 February 2012 09:08 AM
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    Robert May- Your comments are quite unbelievable (you must be a forum troll) ...You come out stating that the crook in the main story in fact may not be a crook and that he may just of had poor client accounting skills and then you have the audacity to suggest that because our segregated client account reconciles and everything is as it should be o ... we've set "the first alarm bell of someone who could easily find themselves with an out of control client account" this is an outrageous statement!

    I didn't say anywhere in my original post that I was the only one with the "keys" to our client account. There are two competent people in the day to day operation that have full control and access to properly look after the client account.

    As Unbelievable (posted on 2012-02-16 12:34:58 ) suggested keep smoking that crack pipe of yours...it's obviously helping with your delusional logic.

    • 17 February 2012 08:15 AM
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    Matt, I couldn't reply fully yesterday, I was out and about.
    In your post you have sounded the first alarm bell of someone who could easily find themselves with an out of control client account.
    Irrespective of whatever system you are using, I know there is potential for things to go amiss in the business you have so much confidence in.
    "A trained and competent person doing it" indicates that you have 1 person who is very good. Correct? You rely on him/her?
    This one person does the receipts? Then does the banking? Then does the Bank reconciliation? Does the Statements, the cheques, the contractor payments, the whole works?

    You then say you are being audited twice a year, presumably passing the audits? You claim to be squeaky clean.

    Sorry Matt but having 1 person, with no separation of duties means that you and your clients are vulnerable and you should not pass a professional audit. You are being unfair on your staff, however good, trained, competent and honest they might be it is not right to have effectively 1 set of keys to a piggy bank that contains millions of pound.

    • 17 February 2012 07:20 AM
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    I agree that good client accounting is critical to a successful lettings business and it may well be that there was a cock-up rather than a conspiracy initially but we have picked up clients from the fall out of Charles Lawson and some had not received any rent for six months (although tenants had been paying it, and we were instructed to let one student property by a client in January for the following summer, but after our tenants had been in the property for a couple of days, a group turned up with a Charles Lawson agreement saying that they had paid deposit and rent to that agent.......... They had let it without instruction, and that was not by accident! My client had to reimburse the tenants as they had signed the agreement in his name, and then pursue Charles Lawson.
    Anyway, I like to think we run a pretty tight ship but my book keeper says that the software we are using is clunky at best and not up to the job. She says that the package was clearly written by property people rather than numbers people....... does any-one know a good lettings software package where the accounts side is hot?

    • 16 February 2012 16:36 PM
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    A professional axe to grind?

    Sorry Ray, very few people have seen as many client account "issues" as I have, and I think if I wanted to grind an axe I wouldn't pick this one.

    I fully accept that good agents do not need software but there are more than a few I have seen who are sleep walking into situations that are beyond their understanding or control

    • 16 February 2012 14:59 PM
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    Oh no. I agree with Industry Observer again. Twice in a month.

    As for Robert May's point, it is true to say that the nature of a lettings agency means book-keeping is particularly onerous and many newcomers are unprepared. Sometimes holes in Client Accounts can be down to incompetence rather than theft .

    Its not an excuse though. To use an analogy, if a restauranteur gave people food poisoning would it be a mitigating factor to say he didn't set out to poison people, he simply didn't understand how difficult food preparation and hygiene was?

    • 16 February 2012 14:34 PM
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    'Robert May' - seriously....

    A Trading Standards investigation and a Police raid to locate thousands of pounds of missing client & tenant money and you blame his software, really?

    Let's not condemn him because we are not qualified accountants ourselves, jeez are you for real?

    If you honestly believe the money's still there and it's just a clerical error then you haven't been sharing the pipe. Remember it's puff puff give.....

    • 16 February 2012 12:34 PM
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    @Robert May on 2012-02-16 10:12:55

    You seem to have some kind of 'pofessional' axe to grind.
    The majority of established agencies are well run businesses without over sophisticated software..
    In my view Matt on 2012-02-16 11:09:36 is quite correct

    • 16 February 2012 12:20 PM
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    Robert May - I do not agree about your point regarding sloppy account leading to losses on the client account.

    The answer to correct accounting is is simple! Receipts should be done at least once daily and after each time, the account reconciled. Then payments should be made (again at least once a day) and then the account reconcilled after each payment batch.

    This way if any genuine mistakes are made you can identify and rectify them easily. If the manager/owner can't get their accounting staff to do this, they should not be in the business of looking after other peoples money! The owner has a responsibilty to make sure the client account is 100% correct whether he does this himself or employs someone to do it. It's poor management on their part if they can't put a competent staff member in place. In the case of a manager, they should be sacked for gross misconduct if they can't manage their staff properly and undertake a simple check daily to make sure the accounts reconcile.

    Sorry but I have handled 10's of millions pounds of clients money over the past few years and can confidently say my accounts are squeaky clean (which are indepdently audited at least twice a year)!

    Client accounting isn't that hard! Just make sure you have a comptent and trained person doing it!

    • 16 February 2012 11:09 AM
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    Perhaps it is the fact that very, very few book keepers in Property Management have even a basic training in accountancy, which is at the heart of this much repeated scenario.
    Many Directors, Principals and Partners of property management firms rely on their staff to keep them on the right side of law, in turn the staff rely on the latest software system bought to replace the last one that “did not work properly” Conscious of the cost of training many firms rely on 6 perhaps 9 hours of client cash accounting training on software that is, in some cases, not fit for purpose.
    The upshot is that money often doesn’t go missing, the wrong money is paid to the wrong people at the wrong time. It is then compound errors and inept error corrections that then lead to a hideous clash between Client’s accounts and Agency office accounts. The outcome is always going to be the same.
    The thing that surprises me is that the egos of those involved will often be so inflated that they would rather have a criminal record than admit they didn’t really understand or exercise proper control over the accounting side of their business. I have no sympathy for the crooks and criminals in the industry, but I can well understand how an innocent boss can end up in a mess that they simply do not understand and are powerless to rectify.
    How many weeks in a month? Some agencies lose (can’t find, can’t account for) 1 month’s rent per month for every 13 properties on their books by not knowing the answer to that question. For some (average agent) over £10k per year is being incorrectly given away in thousands of small chunks that are simply outside the comprehension of the staff or Boss.
    Before you condemn Mr Hussain and Mr Weston just wonder if you are 100% confident of your own balances and procedures.

    • 16 February 2012 10:12 AM
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    Er - what "tough sentencing" - paying back money you shouldn't have taken in the first place and thus avoiding jail for fraud?

    Or do I mis-read this? Failure to jail immediately just means this person is free to work another scam for 6 months to raise the stay out of jail money for this offence.

    • 16 February 2012 09:33 AM
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    How exactly does this case differ from that of Brandon Weston?
    Brandon essentially got off scott free in circumstances, that on reading were almost identical to those of Mr Hussain.

    It seems that Mr Weston's power is equal to that of Lord Voldermort in that even in this story he shall not be named.

    One can only conclude that Brandon use a few thousand of the reported £206,000 on some snazzy briefs and perhaps a super injunction?

    Let's send the right message to rogue agents after one has been let off with a slapped wrist.?

    • 16 February 2012 09:07 AM
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    Richard Davies (from Luton) and Ben Pickering, (his brother in law, active Conservative, Fulham) who formerly founded and ran the Romeo Bater letting agency in Wandsworth, got away totally unhindered by a pointless Police investigation, despite not denying the fact thousands of pounds of client money and deposits had gone missing. Their offices were abandoned (rent unpaid) and the company was put in to compulsory liquidation by the Receiver. Debts were not repaid and the company was struck off.

    Aside from trying (and failing) to set up another firm in the name of girlfriend Gemma Coles - Basil Hawkins Ltd - solicitor Charlotte Pickering (also in the family but working anonymously) made every effort to remove discussions between creditors of Romeo Bater Limited from online forums.

    Please do not respond to requests to remove this comment as a statement of facts is not against the law. As the law can't reliably deal with rogue agents, forums like Letting Agent Today are doing a great job in stopping these people setting up again and again under different business names by ensuring the situation and possible rogues, are not forgotten and remain well publicised across the industry.

    Comments kindly reproduced from: http://www.propertyinvestmentproject.co.uk/blog/is-your-letting-agent-holding-deposits-or-failing-to-pass-on-rent/

    > Richard James Davies wrote this on 2010-01-17 15:50:34 My name is Richard James Davies.

    I was the sole director at Romeo Bater. With regards to the monies lost due to Romeo Bater ceasing trading, I can only apologise. If I had money I would return it to you all today, but I don't even have the £2,000 required to liquidate the company.

    I have no assets, no home and no car. Basil Hawkins has never traded and has never earnt a penny.

    For the record, Charlotte Pickering and Gemma Coles had absolutely no knowledge or involvement in the demise of my company. Gemma and I are no longer together due to these circumstances and the least I owe her and my sister is to clear their names. Also my Father, Richard Morgan Davies had absolutely no knowledge of the financial straights that my company was in when I asked him to become a director and invest money into the company to open a second office.

    I worked as hard as humanly possible to keep the company going to earn enough money to pay everyone back but the hole I was in was too deep. Again, I can only apologise to you all and assure you that there is no money. If I had any I would attempt to make repayments but my career and life is in tatters.

    If anyone wants to contact me then they can on my email address which is LIITEA@HOTMAIL.CO.UK


    > Richard Morgan Davies wrote this on 2010-01-17 19:03:29 It has just come to my attention that people are commenting on Romeo Bater on this site.I have always been contactable over this matter and have spoken to many creditors.
    I was a large investor in this company and have lost all of that money.
    Every body involved worked as hard as they could to keep things going, the fact that I lost my entire lifes savings proves that we took this very very seriously.The office rent and wage bills were just too big to sustain and the company went under.
    My e mail is richard.davies777@hotmail.co.uk

    • 16 February 2012 09:06 AM
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    £300,000 is the tip of the iceberg...... this lot, formally trading as Issis Properties, have been at it for over 10 years. Trading Standards took far too long to do anything about it and the police just did not want to know. I bet they are laughing at level of compensation and the threat of jail.

    • 16 February 2012 08:18 AM
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