Anger after £30k of tenants’ deposits went missing from Ipswich estate agency
- Credit: Archant
Tenants and landlords are demanding justice after more than £30,000 of deposits allegedly disappeared from an estate agents which went into liquidation.
The deposits paid by Ipswich tenants to Jonathan Waters Estate Agents Limited (JWEAL) should have gone into a government-backed protection scheme but customers say the money has vanished.
Jonathan Waters, who founded the company in 2002 but sold it in 2014, said he was "shocked and horrified" by the news.
He said the company was "highly successful" when he sold it and he had not been involved as a director since.
Pauline Scott Property Management (PSPM), which took over managing properties for the landlords after JWEAL agreed to be voluntarily wound up last August, confirmed the deposits were missing.
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PSPM also told landlords their tenants' deposits had not been paid into protection schemes.
Tenants and landlords are calling for authorities to take action against JWEAL's owner and director Jane Russell, who bought the company from Mr Waters.
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She has not responded to requests for comment.
Mother-of-two Alison Seymour said she paid a £1,200 cash deposit to JWEAL in November 2017 for a three-bedroom house she was renting in Ganymede Close, Ipswich. She now fears she could be left out of pocket when she moves out later this month.
Ms Seymour first learned the money was missing when PSPM contacted her in September to say it had been unable to find her deposit. "I was completely shocked," she said, "I can't believe it has gone missing. It made me very angry."
Although Ms Seymour has been told her landlord is liable for the missing money, she said it was unfair for anyone to have to pay for JWEAL's wrongdoing.
Anthony Molyneux, whose tenant in Felixstowe Road paid £975 to JWEAL in May 2017, also discovered the money was missing. Since then, he has complained to Action Fraud, Suffolk Constabulary and Ipswich MP Sandy Martin.
"At my age I can swallow a thousand pound loss without too much trouble," he said. "But I feel that my trust and our tenants' have been completely betrayed."
Landlady Sharon Maxwell, who let a property in Belstead Road through JWEAL, said she had no idea of the problem until she discovered the company folded and her tenant's £1,050 deposit was missing.
"The company seemed to be on the ball and were high profile with quite a few offices, so there was no reason to doubt they'd paid the deposit into the protection scheme," she added. "It really beggars belief."
Another landlord, who asked not to be named, said he had lost faith in people after his tenant's deposit went missing.
"I've always treated people with respect," he said. "Unfortunately, I did that with this company and it's taught me a lesson - I'll never trust anyone again."
PSPM said it had taken over the management of properties previously handled by JWEAL in September and soon discovered "at least £30,000" was missing from the deposit scheme.
"Someone at Jonathan Waters has not paid that money in as they should have done," a spokesman added. "It's been a total shambles - there were boxes and boxes of paperwork."
PSPM said all landlords had been notified about the deposits.
A former member of staff at JWEAL, who asked not to be named, said junior staff had no dealings with the deposit scheme.
Landlords have reported the case to police.
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin said he had been alerted to the complaints and hoped police would take action.
"I will be raising this with Ipswich's chief superintendent when I meet her next," he said,
Mr Martin said he was also considering raising a question with the Home Secretary Sajid Javid calling for Action Fraud to be given greater powers.
It comes after Mr Molyneux said he felt frustrated by the lack of progress on his case, seven months after he first complained to the authority.
Action Fraud said the case was being assessed by the City of London Police's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to find viable lines of inquiry to pass to law enforcement agencies, such as police forces, for investigation.
But it told Mr Molyneux on Monday that his report had not been passed on to a police force for investigation. In the meantime, it said NFIB would continue to assess viable links to other criminality.
"Please be assured that we have not closed your report and it will continue to be reviewed against new information received from Action Fraud reports and other intelligence sources," it said.
Ms Russell has not responded to a request for comment.
Jonathan Waters Estate Agents Limited went into liquidation last year - with the lost of 17 jobs.
Director Jane Russell told Companies House a general meeting of members held on August 30 had resolved "that the company would be wound up voluntarily". McTear Williams and Wood Limited was appointed as liquidators.
Speaking at the time, the liquidators said JWEAL had been in a company voluntary arrangement for 12 months, while it sought buyers for the business.
A statement of affairs, filed on September 14, reported the company owed creditors more than £552,000, including Ms Russell who was owed £132,000. Abbreviated Accounts showed the company had made a loss of £109,000 in 2015 and £252,000 in 2016.
The company was set up by Jonathan Waters in 2002. He was director until he resigned in 2014. Ms Russell, previously company secretary, then became director and owner.
Landlords are required by law to put tenants' deposits into a government backed scheme.
The rules were introduced in April 2007 and apply to all short hold tenancies.
The regulations require landlords to pay the deposit into one of three approved schemes - Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits or Tenancy Deposit Scheme - within 30 days of receiving it. They must also give the tenant information about the scheme.
They are intended to ensure tenants get their deposit back provided they meet the terms of their tenancy agreement, do not damage the property and pay their rent and bills.
At the end of a tenancy, landlords must return the deposit within 10 days of both parties agreeing how much will be paid back. If there is a dispute, the deposit will be protected in the scheme until the issue is sorted out.
Landlords who fail to use one of the schemes can be ordered to pay up to three times the deposit.
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