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Martin & Co drafts in auditor amid alleged fraud investigations

Martin & Co is locked in talks with Kent police in connection with an alleged case of fraud.

Speaking exclusively to The Negotiator, Ian Wilson, managing director of the national lettings franchise, says it is one of three alleged cases of stolen deposits with which he is dealing, which collectively amount to more than £190,000. He claims that franchisees in Brighton and Rotherham have been investigated by the business in addition to one in Tunbridge Wells.

The thefts come in spite of the fact that both the Rotherham and Tunbridge Wells franchisees being part of tenancy deposit protection schemes, which were introduced in the Housing Act 2004 to protect tenants money.

Wilson claims that the nework launched an investigation into its Brighton franchisee when it became aware that it had discontinued payments for National Approved Lettings Scheme cover.

Wilson says he is liaising with NALS and the National Association of Estate Agents about the allegations in connection with Tunbridge Wells and Rotherham franchisees respectively. He adds that he is pursuing lost monies in connection with the Brighton franchisee through the courts, due to the former licensee is no longer being a member of a tenancy protecion scheme.

A spokeswoman for Tunbridge police confirmed that the incident has been reported and that an investigation is underway, but adds that it is too early to comment further. Spokeswomen for Brighton and Rotherham police state that there are no cases pending in relation to Martin & Co.

Wilson bemoans the time it is taking for NALS to deal with the Rotherham case, which he attributes to a lack of clarity surrounding its claims process.

The problem is that no-one has actually got the policy wording for filed claims and there¹s no published claims procedures. There's just no transparency about how claims are dealt with, he says. NALS was unavailable for comment.

Wilson has drafted in auditor firm Marshals to undertake a full audit of each of Martin & Co's 166 franchisees in light of the investigations, which he expects to take a year.

The investigations come as the Government calls for the creation of a national register for landlords, as part of its efforts to professionalise the private rented sector. Landlords will have to declare the addresses of their property holdings if the proposal is implemented.

The register is one of a number of proposals outlined in the Government's response to the Rugg Review, published last week. It also proposes that landlords contribute a small fee to help cover the cost.

The Government commissioned Dr Julie Rugg from the University of York in January 2008 to investigate the issues faced by landlords and tenants in the UK private rented sector. As part of her report she suggests the introduction of a light-touch licensing system for landlords and mandatory regulation for letting agencies.

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