A landlord in Leicestershire says letting agents who accept online banking screen grabs as proof of rent or deposit payment are leaving the door open to fraudsters.

Builder Robert Knights (pictured, above), who used a local lettings agency in Allington, Maidstone to rent out his property in February last year, says he is out of pocket to the tune of £2,000 after the tenant faked a screen grab to get the keys to his house.

Knights claims the agency did not properly check a screenshot of an online bank account purporting to show the deposit and first month’s rent being transferred to the agency ahead of the tenancy beginning.

The agency says the tenant failed referencing as did a guarantor and instead the tenant agreed to pay six months’ rent and a deposit in advance, but a few days before the let began said they could not honour this promise.

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Knights and the agency struck a deal with the tenant that they would pay a higher rent instead, and the tenant provided an online banking screen shot of the first months’ rent and deposit being paid.

Fraudulent

This turned out to be fraudulent but by the time it had been discovered, the tenant was in the property and, despite promising to pay the outstanding debt, stayed for a further five weeks after giving a variety of excuses.

Knights is adamant that letting agencies should not hand over keys until monies have proven to have cleared, while the agency says the screenshot is a standard industry method of checking cleared funds, and that both Knights and their company was a victim of the tenant’s deceit.

Happily, the duplicitous tenant moved out without a full eviction being required, which Knights says was a huge relief, but by then he was approximately £2,000 out of pocket including lost rent and court costs.

He asked the agency to re-imburse him, a request it declined although the company waived its £420 fee as a gesture of good will, and Knights complaint was then escalated to The Property Ombudsman for redress.

Screen grabs

But this case brings up a crucial point for redress systems like TPO, agents and landlords; should screen grabs of ‘funds sent’ from online banking sites be accepted as payment?

In its adjudication, TPO said the agency should have checked with Knights that he was happy to hand over the keys without proof of funds having arrived in the agency’s bank account.

Although both Barclays and ARLA Propertymark told TPO that a screenshot was acceptable in this case, the ombudsman has disagreed, saying in its adjudication that: “I have found that there was in my view a significant failing here by the agency in accepting the screenshot as sufficient evidence that payment had been made without consulting the Complainant first.

“The Complainant was therefore denied the opportunity to accept or decline the tenant’s occupation of the Property being then aware of the non-receipt of cleared funds.”

TPO awarded a sum of £620 as compensation, a reduced amount compared to his losses because, it says, Knights was aware the tenant had a troubled financial background.

“I find this unfair, and the end result is that I’m nearly £2,000 out of pocket but I’ve been given a cheque for £200 – where’s the justice in that?” says Knights.

rebecca marsh tpo

Rebecca Marsh, Property Ombudsman at TPO, adds: “We review every case based on the evidence provided by both parties, the agent’s obligations under the TPO Code of Practice and what is fair and reasonable in the specific circumstances.

“Where TPO finds that an agent has not provided an acceptable service, we will support a case and, often, make a financial award.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Some letting agents refused to give me copies of a prospective tenants bank statements. Neither will the letting agent bother to check bank statements themselves. Neither are they motivated to do so. Most letting agents take their commission up-front, so they bear no losses from a non-paying tenant.

    As landlord, I am motivated to make sure the tenant has the income and the money to pay the rent. A smart landlord, will go through the bank statement line by line. If you can’t do it, ask an accountant to go through it.

    > The agency says the tenant failed referencing as did a guarantor and instead the tenant agreed to pay six months’ rent and a deposit in advance,

    Did the bank statement show he/she the six month rent in their bank account??. If not where was the money coming from??

    The landlord should have taken the letting agency to Court.

    The Government abolished tenant referencing fees, however it means a crooked tenant will loose no money over false references or sub-standard credit history.

    I refuse to give keys, until the money has been transferred over. I get them to sign the tenancy, but I don’t sign it, until the money is cleared.

    How is this not a criminal matter? Why had n’t this been reported to the Police?

    > He asked the agency to re-imburse him, a request it declined although the company waived its £420 fee as a gesture of good will

    How is it the agency, got their £420 fee?

  2. I don’t know why ANYONE would accept a tenant and guarantor who failed referencing. Rent in advance might be attractive to some desperate to get their hands on funds but is risky. If they can;t pay at the start of a tenancy what are the chances of paying later on – we all know the Government are making it more and more difficult to remove tenants. The Gov want to play hardball landlords need to up their game to match. Of course it will reduce the number of properties that suspect tenants or poorly placed tenants will have available to them but this is driven by Government and so called houisng Charities. Its a hard life and it will get much harder

  3. Why any landlord would accept a tenant (and their guarantor) who both failed the credit checks I don’t know. If they can’t fund the rent at the start, what hope is there for future rent payments? A very unwise move on the LLs part and as the omburdsman basically said, he knew there was a risk.
    And why would a reputable agent suggest to a LL to do so even with ‘upfront’ payment which turned out not be be. A sloppy or greedy agent trying shortcuts by not ensuring receipt of payment and in a rush to get their fee. Surely it is basic stuff – proof of payment is not proof of receipt especially when the so called proof of payment is a screen shot sent by the fraudulant tenant. So basic but there are agents that will take shortcut. The greatest power a Landlord ever has is to say no to a prospective tenant and an agent trying to rush the basic checks. Now more than ever, caution is the watchword when considering a new tenancy.

  4. A screenshot suggests fraud or incompetence/laziness.
    Money in the bank is easy to check and the start of a working relationship.

    Times are hard for everyone, not just tenants, but landlords as well. If a tenant end up on Housing Benefit, it should always be paid to the Landlord from the beginning and arrears settled automatically at the same time. If the tenant cannot find work, the chance of them managing their financial affairs is going to be reduced. Literacy rates are dreadful. Many self-employed contractors have difficulty in providing proper invoices/receipts and rely on another family member. I have had to provide a template to at least 1 in 10 contractors. I promote local trades as this helps the local economy.

    Too many tenants need the Housing Benefit to just pay bills. This should be extended so that the basic Water, Heating, and Electricity are also paid to the service providers. At least 1 in 1000 local households are in extreme need and rely on charity as well as benefits. OK the rent will be capped, so should the services, and the cost of prepayment meters should be the standard rate, which should be capped for all services (yes, there is progress on this). I think that this should be extended to Internet charges so that there is no excuse for not getting Home schooling, etc. We have seen too many children of all ages, not getting any education during COVID.

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