13 August 2012
A Caerphilly county borough man has been sentenced to 301 days imprisonment for a series of fraud offences and disqualified from being a Company Director for 3 years following a 12 month investigation by Caerphilly County Borough Council's Trading Standards team.
Robert Charles Symons, a Director of Markham based Capitalwest Limited, a lettings agency for residential rental properties in the Caerphilly county borough, Cardiff and Newport areas, was found guilty of a total of 25 offences of committing fraud by false representation and dishonestly abusing a position in which he was expected to safeguard or not to act against the financial interests of his clients, contrary to the Fraud Act 2006.
The charges related to the following trading practices:
- Mr Symons' company's website falsely claimed membership of four trade associations which set professional standards for the lettings industry and afford protection to landlords and tenants
- The company's website made false statements that tenants' deposits would be protected with approved Tenancy Protection Schemes which guarantee that tenants will get their deposits back at the end of their tenancy, subject to certain criteria
- Eight tenants' deposits had not been protected with any of the approved Tenancy Protection Schemes. The value of tenants' deposits not protected was £3,500
- Three tenants had paid for an insurance policy when in fact no such policy existed. A total of £560 had been paid for insurance
- Two tenants unknowingly had their housing benefit diverted into Symons' bank account totalling £786, which Symons kept, therefore resulting in the tenants not being able to pay their rent to their landlord
- Two tenants paid rent totalling £1,125, which should have been refunded
- One landlord was asked to pay £189 in management fees, contrary to the contract that had been agreed
Robert Charles Symons appeared at Cwmbran Magistrates Court on 2nd July 2012, where he pleaded guilty to the 25 offences of committing fraud by false representation and dishonestly abusing a position in which he was expected to safeguard or not to act against the financial interests of his clients contrary to sections one, two and four of the Fraud Act 2006.
At Caerphilly Magistrates Court on Thursday 9th August 2012, Symons was sentenced to 301 days in prison; there was no order for compensation or costs.
During the investigation, it became apparent that some of the tenants were vulnerable, with limited sources of income, and often in very unfortunate personal circumstances resulting in an urgent need for housing.
Initially, Symons was often seen as these tenants' 'saviour' – however as dealings with him progressed, many of his tenants and landlords found themselves in precarious positions.
For example, one tenant paid £950 to rent a flat, which he was never allowed to move into. This money has never been refunded.
On another occasion, as a result of two landlords having not received the rent paid by tenants to Symons, the landlords terminated their contract with Symons and arranged for their tenant to pay them directly. However, unknown to the tenants, Symons made false statements to their local authority which resulted in the tenants' housing benefit being paid to Symons. The tenant therefore had no means of paying their rent to the landlord.
Following sentencing, Cllr David Poole, Cabinet Member for Community and Leisure Services at Caerphilly County Borough Council said, "While cases like this are extremely rare, the detail of this particular case is truly appalling and I sincerely hope it will act as a deterrent to anyone else who feels that they can behave in this manner. I am pleased that the court has emphasised the seriousness of the offences in the sanctions it has imposed to draw this case to a satisfactory conclusion".
To report an offence to Caerphilly County Borough Council's Trading Standards team, please call 01495 235 291.
Details of recent prosecutions can be found at www.caerphilly.gov.uk/prosecutions/.
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