A Newmarket letting agent who defrauded his customers has today been jailed for 34 months.
A Newmarket business owner convicted of defrauding his customers by over £80,000 was today sentenced to 34 months in prison.
Numerous complaints from landlords and tenants prompted an investigation into Francis Smart, proprietor of Smart Residential Letting Agents, after it was claimed that he had broken the law by pocketing tenancy deposits instead of placing these into a Deposit Protection Scheme.
More than 30 witnesses alleged that they had faced substantial losses after using Smart’s services, resulting in Suffolk Trading Standards initiating court proceedings against him supported by colleagues from the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team.
Mr Smart, aged 46, subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud in respect of retaining rent and deposits under S1 Fraud Act 2006 earlier this month. Upon sentencing him to 34 months per offence, to run concurrently at Ipswich Crown Court today, Friday 26 August, the judge commented that ‘this was particularly sad as people had liked and trusted you… You have betrayed those who trusted you and caused a lot of distress and upset’.
An application was made to have Smart disqualified as a Director of a Company in the future and this matter will be dealt with together with any compensation at a Proceeds of Crime hearing in March 2023.
Smart, of Dowding Avenue in Cambridge, is already serving prison time for another police matter and will be remanded in custody and serve his latest sentence concurrently.
Suffolk Trading Standards and the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigations Team commented on today’s outcome:
“Francis Smart chose to blatantly disregard laws on rental deposits designed to offer protection to tenants in the event of a landlord or letting agency facing financial difficulties.
“In addition to retaining deposits he kept rental income, leading to many of his victims having to find the money to refund their tenants, with total losses estimated to be in the region of around £80,000.
“These were people who, in some cases, had bought an investment property to fund their retirement, meaning that Smart’s actions will have a long-lasting impact on them. We are pleased that the judge has taken this into consideration when reaching their decision and ordered Smart to serve a custodial sentence.”
Councillor Andrew Reid, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Public Protection, added:
“Today’s outcome reflects the severity of Smart’s crimes and the grave consequences of carrying out fraudulent trading in Suffolk, which I hope will serve as a deterrent to anyone considering doing the same.
“Bringing Smart to justice would not have been possible without his victims having the courage to come forward and report him, along with the tireless work of officers from Trading Standards and the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigations Team on the case, for which I am incredibly grateful.”
Trish Burls, Chair of the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team, said:
“Francis Smart deliberately swindled his victims out of thousands of pounds. Today he has been brought to justice – and I hope this sentence provides some semblance of comfort to those who were targeted.
“I urge anyone agreeing to make payments like this to make sure they do their due diligence – always undertake background research on the person or business you’ll be working with and always ask for references. If you suspect you are being scammed or defrauded, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133.”
By law, a deposit must be placed in a Deposit Protection Scheme within 30 days of the landlord receiving it, and landlords are also obligated to provide information to tenants about where their deposit is held.
Anyone who suspects that an individual or business is fraudulently trading can report their suspicions in confidence by contacting Citizens Advice on 0808 223 1133.
Notes to Editors
Further information about Deposit Protection Schemes is available at: www.gov.uk/deposit-protection-schemes-and-landlords.
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues.