Trading Standards officers retrieve students' cash from letting agent

Zulfiqar Hussain admitted two years ago seven counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice relating to the operation of Charles Lawson Lettings from his offices in Cowley Road, Oxford.

Case prosecuted by Trading Standards

He received a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, in a case prosecuted by Trading Standards, and was also ordered to pay back money he misappropriated.

Mr Hussain had paid back small amounts to the ten people he duped who were to give evidence against him but had not settled until further intervention from Trading Standards and other council colleagues made him reimburse them in full, recovering more than £8,100.

No home just before new university term started

One of those tricked in 2009 by Mr Hussain was student Alice Codner, who with her friends had arranged to rent a house in East Avenue, Oxford from him, paying a deposit and a month's rent to secure it.

Upon return from a summer holiday they found that the property they thought they had rented from Mr Hussain was in fact not in his care, leaving them only a week to find alternative accommodation before the new academic term began.

He has now paid back more than £3,200 in total to Ms Codner and her three prospective housemates after Trading Standards officers applied for compensation orders.

The 24-year-old, now living in London, said: "We didn't have anywhere to live a week before the university term started when we found out what had happened and we were out of pocket - we couldn't believe it. It is hard enough to find student accommodation in Oxford and we were left with only a few days to find somewhere new.

"Luckily we found somewhere else to live but I never held much hope of getting all of the money back. I think there is an assumption that Oxford students have lots of money, but that is not the case and I think perhaps we were seen as an easy target."

Joy at getting money back

Ms Codner, who is training to become a primary school teacher, said: "Trading Standards took up the case and I agreed to give evidence in court, but Mr Hussain pleaded guilty, so we weren't required to go to court. He was ordered to pay the money back, but time passed and we did not get back all of the money owed.

"It was with disbelief when I found out that the Trading Standards officers had managed to retrieve the money Mr Hussain had misappropriated and it was wonderful to suddenly have £800 each back."

Hard work resulted in retrieval of money

Trading Standards manager Richard Webb said: "We are delighted for those tricked by Mr Hussain who were due to give evidence against him to have got their cash back from him - what he did put people in an incredibly difficult situation by falsely saying they were renting a property from him, when in fact he had no right to do so.

"It must have been very distressing to return to a property you think you will be living in after parting with several thousand pounds to discover that not only do you not have a roof over your head but also that your money was gone.

"My staff and other council colleagues worked extremely hard to retrieve this money and prior to that, bring Mr Hussain to court, where he admitted his guilt. I hope this case and subsequent retrieval of monies misappropriated act as a strong warning to anybody thinking of doing a similar thing."