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RICS fines Countrywide after it admits breaking rules on client money protection

Decision follows a hearing in Birmingham yesterday during which it was revealed that the agency had improperly transferred £10 million of client funds over a ten-year period.

Nigel Lewis

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Countrywide yesterday admitted two counts of not following Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RIC) rules on client money protection during a disciplinary hearing in Birmingham.

Following the hearing it has been reprimanded and told to pay a £100,000 fine.

The disciplinary action by RICS follows the revelation that between 2008 and 2018 Countrywide moved a total of £10.09 million of client funds from the company’s client account to its office account.

Under RICS guidance no member of permitted to move funds in this way and therefore RICs say Countrywide ‘failed to preserve the security of client funds’.

During the hearing it was explained that the estate agency had transgressed two rules of conduct.

These include that its conduct represented a ‘serious and prolonged disregard’ toward the firm’s professional CMP obligations, and that it had failed to avoid ‘any actions or situations that are inconsistent with its professional obligations’.

No loss to customers

But despite admitting to breaking the Rules of Conduct and moving money when it was not permitted to, Countrywide has released a statement explaining that ‘customers did not suffer any loss’ during the ten-year period when ‘many thousands’ of untraceable small sums were moved over.

“Back in 2008 we started to accumulate many thousands of individual small amounts on client accounts in our lettings businesses, where funds over six years old could not be traced to source,” the company says.

“Some would have been rightly Countrywide funds and others small amounts of landlord/tenant sums that could not be traced.

“It was agreed at the time to move these untraceable amounts to an office account and put in place an indemnity that, should ever a recipient be identified, the amount would be paid across.”

October 31, 2019

One comment

  1. Is it time that Countrywide got rid of its rotten apples.

    Back in August 2018 Himanshu Raja – Chief financial Officer at Countrywide, was until it was voted down to receive £7M of company shares, and Paul Creffield Group GMD was to receive £8M of shares. This was at a time that the scandal of the £10M funds was known to the company, but not disclosed to the shareholders.

    Then in early Spring 2019, Countrywide were fined £215,000 for Anti Money Laundering lapses, and now they have been fined another £100,000 for financial irregularities.

    Given that Mr Creffield is himself fully supportive of RoPA, and a single regulator. Is it not time for him and Himanshu to do the honourable thing?

    Two months ago Mr Creffield when asked about RoPA said, … ‘We’re really supportive of regulation because we believe it will help create a level playing field with all agents expected to have the same expertise, It’ll be good for the consumer too.’

    More worryingly for all parties, including perhaps Baron Best who heads up RoPA is Mr Creffield’s further comments regarding RoPA, ‘ Because of Countrywide’s scale, we’ve been consulted frequently (by RoPA) on proposals during their preparation, and we’ve conducted some pilot projects.’

    Now if the new regulatory framework that a forthcoming government may back comes into being in the form of RoPA, should some of its architects be coming from Countrywide’s top management team. For me they would be the last people I would look to.

    If Paul Creffield advocates root and branch industry regulation – then Countrwide should itself be a beacon of this industry change, at present it is a bonfire of vanities, which given the proximity of November the 5th is very apt. Matches anyone.

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