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Kettering high street letting agent jailed for ripping off tenants and landlords

November 2015

Former letting agent from Kettering admits 10 fraud-related charges

A former letting agent from Kettering who overcharged both tenants and landlords has admitted 10 fraud-related offences at Leicester Crown Court.

Trained accountant Harpreet Garcha, who ran property lettings franchises Belvoir in Kettering, Desborough and Corby, was investigated by Northamptonshire County Council’s Trading Standards team after a landlord made a complaint about being overcharged for routine maintenance at her rented home.

As a result of the Trading Standards investigation, Garcha, 39, of Kettering, was charged with two counts of fraudulent trading, two counts of money laundering, five counts of insurance fraud and one offence of VAT fraud. He pleaded guilty last week to all these offences, which were carried out between 2008 and 2012.

When routine maintenance or repairs were needed, Garcha would often increase the cost of the work by at least 30 per cent when invoicing the landlord or tenant.

This practice came to light when a complaint was made about the cost of works at a rented property, which revealed the landlord had been charged £312.50 for an electrical safety check which should have cost just £58.75.

The complainant then reported Garcha to Trading Standards, prompting a full investigation into the lettings company.

Garcha also provided false invoices to HMRC to reclaim VAT on business expenditure and made false statements when making insurance claims on behalf of landlords which resulted in unjustified county court judgements against former tenants.

At a hearing at Leicester Crown Court in June 2015  Garcha was also found to be in contempt of court for breaching a restraint order preventing him from dissipating his assets.

He was sentenced today (04/02/2016) at Leicester Crown Court and his sentence includes two-and-a-half years for the fraud-related offences and three months for the contempt of court offence, to run consecutively.. He has also been disqualified from acting as a director for nine years.

Since July 2014, the Kettering, Desborough and Corby franchises have been under new ownership and the current businesses are not connected with this prosecution in any way.

The franchisor, Belvoir Property Management UK Limited, is not the subject of any action by Northamptonshire Trading Standards

July 2012

Anne Gardiner, former proprietor of Belvoir St Albans, Hertfordshire, which closed down in November 2009 leaving money owed to tenants and landlords, has been sentenced at St Albans Crown Court.

Gardiner received a two-year suspended sentence, was ordered to do 130 hours of community service, and an order was made that confiscation be undertaken and a figure to be agreed to be repaid to the court for the proceeds of crime.

Novemeber 2010

David Sole ran the Belvoir agency in Charing Cross, Norwich, until his arrest in December 2009. He handed himself into the police after evidence began to emerge that he had taken rent and deposits from tenants but never passed it on to landlords or deposit holding agencies.

He was jailed for 21 months at Norwich Crown Court after admitting theft. But the court heard he has few remaining assets and only £10,000 is likely to be recovered from the sale of his house. This will be confiscated but must be shared between about 65 victims, meaning there is little hope they will ever be repaid in full.

Prosecutor John Farmer said Mr Sole had taken over the Belvoir Norwich franchise in 2002 and had no previous experience or training. “The defendant should never have been in this business at all and it ran at a loss from day one,” he added.

Sole, 38, of The Street, Lenwade, began to steal in 2007 and, when the recession hit and he lost clients, found himself taking more and more to prop up the business and support his family.

He sent clients statements saying payments had been made and relied on them not checking their bank statements to verify his claims. Tenants discovered they were being ripped off when their deposits were not returned at the end of their contracts.

Mr Farmer said: “He realised he had been rumbled when his office began receiving calls from tenants, landlords and the press. He went to the police but by this stage an investigation was already underway.”

The court heard that in his police interview, Sole told officers that as the business began to struggle borrowed money paid into the business to pay business and living costs. But this soon spiralled out of control and he was unable to balance the books.

In his statement he said: “I’ve lied to Belvoir, I’ve lied to landlords, I’ve lied to friends, I haven’t been living in the real world. I had a choice: either take my own life and take the coward’s way out or tell people what I’d done.”

The court heard that Belvoir staff, including his former partner, had been unaware of his crimes.

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