Clacton letting agents couple who failed to protect more than £40,000 worth of tenants’ deposit money avoid prison time
PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:24 25 July 2017
A couple from Clacton who failed to safeguard more than £40,000 worth of tenants’ deposits as part of their lettings agency business have narrowly avoided prison after a prosecution by Essex Trading Standards.
George and Kim Overill, of High Street, Thorpe-le-Soken, appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court on July 24 after pleading guilty to two counts each of contravention of professional diligence as directors, and a further two each of fraudulent trading.
Alison Lambert, prosecuting, said the couple had failed to register tenants’ deposits in protection schemes, with 73 properties unaccounted for totalling £42,794.
In a statement read out in court, a former employee at Oakpark Properties said there had once been a “good atmosphere” at the company, based in High Street, Harwich, which was primarily run by Mrs Overill.
She added, however, that a colleague once told her that money at the company was “tight”, and she later resorted to paying £6,000 of her own money to keep it afloat.
Ms Lambert said: “She did not like seeing people messed around and lied to, and that Mr and Mrs Overill stuck their heads in the sand and were not dealing with the problems.”
It was also heard that Mrs Overill took exotic holidays and built an extension on her house, all the while staff raised concerns about accounts and the opening of a new branch in Clacton.
The court also heard that one of the company’s bookkeepers was only asked in interview if she knew how to work computer programme Excel, and that she also noticed money coming into the company was not covering its outgoings.
Ms Lambert added: “She said Mrs Overill dealt with the deposits and that there was no system letting her know which ones where coming in and out other than to tell her verbally.”
In 2014, the company decided to merge with fellow lettings agents, Valentines Properties, but the partnership fell through once they too realised that accounts did not add up.
In mitigation, Stephen Dyble said the couple had never intended to commit fraud when setting up the company, and that the monies owed have been paid back.
His Honour Judge Christopher Morgan told the defendants: “Those who rent properties understand the reasons behind tenant deposit schemes.
“They are there to protect them. Tenants might have had to save for them or borrow money to raise them. For those receiving them, they may seem like insignificant amounts, but for many they represent many months of hard saving and are a lot of money to those individuals.
“You as letting agents sit in a position of trust and responsibility to tenants and landlords, and you have breached that trust by your actions.”
The couple were sentenced to an 18-month suspended sentence for two years.
They were also ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and were disqualified from being company directors for two years.