Case dropped against fraud case letting agents

A family of letting agents have who denied a joint fraud charge have escaped prosecution after repaying landlords cash that allegedly went missing when they closed for business.

Toni Burridge, 41, his wife Jacqueline, 41, and their daughter, Kayleigh, 20, were formerly directors of Hothomes UK, Plymouth, Devon, which shut without warning in July 2011, leaving landlords alleging they were owed deposits.

Police interviewed the family and put papers before the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided to proceed with prosecutions for fraud by false representation.

The charges alleged the trio lied by claiming landlord deposits were protected in a separate bank account from the Hothomes day-to-day business and the firm belonged to a deposit protection scheme which would safeguard the cash.

Each denied the charge, which was listed for hearing at Plymouth Crown Court.

However, prosecutor Alistair Verheijen offered no evidence at the trial and told the judge that the family had repaid £3,500 to their former customers.

“If the lost deposits are repaid, the Crown cannot see the public interest in proceeding with the case,” he said in court.

The case was dismissed.

Hothomesuk.com Ltd  is listed at Companies House as dissolved in May 2012.

The case comes as letting agent groups call for tighter regulation to protect landlord and tenant money.

Letting agents have no regulatory body and can open without offering client money protection.

In recent years, several have shut up shop through mismanagement or alleged fraud, leaving landlords out of pocket.

The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) , a self-regulating industry group  representing around a third of letting agents, has called on the government to act.

Before the call, the government had instigated a consultation process to gather opinion about letting agent regulation.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) also backs letting agent regulation, while Lib Dem MP Annette Brooke has tabled an early day motion in Parliament calling for a new regulatory framework for letting agents.

The motion is unlikely to succeed due to constraints on Parliamentary time and lack of support from the government.

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