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Countrywide hit with fine over £10m money-handling failure

  • 31/10/2019
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Countrywide hit with fine over £10m money-handling failure
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has fined Countrywide £100,000 for mishandling client money.

The group admitted to two breaches of RICS rules; failing to preserve the security of client funds, and acting contrary to the trade body’s rules of conduct.

More than £10m of unidentified client funds in the firm’s lettings division were diverted from its client account to its office account, which was deemed a safeguarding failure by RICS.

Countrywide issued a statement before the hearing, noting that when it decided to move the untraceable amounts to an office account, it put in place an indemnity so that should the recipient ever be identified, the money would be paid across.

They added: “In reality less than one per cent were ever traced after six years. Immediately we paid over the amount due and customers did not suffer any loss.

“Importantly nobody has been disadvantaged but we decided to resolve the RICS matter immediately through a full transfer.”

Full reasons for the panel’s decision, and the respective submissions, will be published later this week.

However, RICS confirmed that Countywide has accepted a reprimand and fine of £100,000.

Luay Al Khatik, director of regulation at RICS, emphasised that consumers need to have trust in professionals, and when agents don’t hold their clients money securely “it seriously erodes that trust”.

He added that the hearing sent a “clear message” to the sector that failing to meet appropriate standards was “not acceptable and has consequences”.

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