Fine for agent who let licence lapse and failed to balance books (Amanda Jones, formerly trading as Ray White Manjimup Districts)
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Catastrophic failure to manage a trust account and trading without a licence for three months has resulted in a WA real estate agent being fined $8,000 plus $832 in costs.
Amanda Jones, formerly trading as Ray White Manjimup Districts, has pleaded guilty to nine charges, under the Real Estate and Business Agents Act. There were:
- seven charges of failing to correctly balance her trust account each month from November 2013 to May 2014, resulting in a $5,000 fine;
- one charge of failure to have an audit carried out for the year ending December 2013 leading to a fine of $1,000; and
- one charge of unlicensed trading for three months in 2014 when her triennial certificate lapsed, which attracted a fine of $2,000.
Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard says on 23 February 2017 the Manjimup Magistrates Court recognised the significance of these breaches of the law and found that Amanda Jones had drastically failed in her duties.
“Real estate agents handle huge dollar amounts on behalf of clients and must take scrupulous care to account for that money properly. A trust account is called as such for good reason – it’s a place where you look after other people’s hard-earned cash – and that’s why it’s regulated and needs to be managed appropriately.
“Amanda Jones’ account reconciliations were a work of fiction bearing no resemblance to the actual bank balance of the business or amount owed to clients. In the worst case, in February 2014, there was a discrepancy of over $150,000. The offending was way beyond administrative errors and the failure to have an audit meant that the discrepancies were not uncovered.
"The Ray White Group notified Ms Jones in March 2014 of the termination of her agreement in accordance with the franchise agreement.
“Of real concern, during a visit by our officers to her business premises in July 2014, Ms Jones said she would immediately close the real estate agency but then flouted the law by continuing to let properties and take rent for another month.”
Mr Hillyard warned industry the penalty for unlicensed trading can be as high as $20,000.
“Ms Jones was not licensed for 3 months due to a lapsed triennial certificate, despite two renewal reminder letters from Consumer Protection. However, the Court took into consideration that she took responsibility by pleading guilty early, was remorseful and had suffered loss of reputation in Manjimup. Also she is currently unemployed and caring for a sick child.”
The Acting Commissioner also urged anyone directly affected by Amanda Jones’ financial mismanagement, who has not contacted Consumer Protection to seek assistance, to do so immediately. Client monies lost in this instance are protected by a fidelity fund, which provides reimbursement.
“Western Australians who have suffered financial loss (money or property) due to illegal conduct by a licensed agent, during a real estate or settlement transaction, can claim from the Fidelity Guarantee Account (FGA). The account is financed through agent and sales representative contributions, interest on agents’ trust accounts, as well as the interest the FGA generates,” Mr Hillyard said.
For more information about the FGA, see the Consumer Protection website: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection/fidelity-guarantee-account. Enquiries regarding claims can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 1300 30 40 54.
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