16:03 PM, 7th September 2011, About 12 years ago
A letting agent confessed to a judge that he dipped in to rents and deposits paid by tenants to keep his struggling business afloat.
Zulfiqar Hussain, who traded as Charles Lawson Lettings in Oxford, pleaded guilty to eight charges of unfair commercial practice and transferring criminal property at the city’s crown court.
The charges arose from an investigation by trading standards officers after complaints from landlords.
They discovered he had transferred £157,000 of client monies out of the business.
Hussain argued this figure was too high in court, and after discussions agreed he had taken ‘not less’ than £33,000.
He told the judge that his business hit financial problems in 2007, so he took money paid by tenants as rent and deposits to keep going.
Trading standards officers disputed this and believed he had taken the money to fund his own lifestyle.
Oxfordshire Trading Standards officer Ian Marriott, who commented the conviction was a warning to other Oxford letting agencies.
He said: “I do not think this is exceptional. There is a large amount of rented property in Oxford, particularly for students, and it is difficult for people to go on recommendations because of the high turnover of students.
“That gives an environment where something like this could carry on for quite some time.
“Letting agencies handle an awful lot of money and the cash flow is enormous.
“That gives an opportunity for somebody to exploit it if they so wish.”
Hussain was bailed for sentencing next month.
The case comes as the new SafeAgent scheme for safeguarding landlord and tenant money is launched by more than 1,200 leading letting agents across the UK.
The scheme is backed by consumer groups and Housing Minister Grant Shapps as a way of promoting confidence in letting agents after a series of high profile cases in which clients have lost several thousands of pounds.