A STUDENT scammed by a rogue letting agent five years ago has spoken of her relief after finally getting her money back.
Alice Codner was swindled by Zulfiqar Hussain when he took a deposit and a month’s rent from her and six friends for an East Oxford house.
But when the students came to move in to the East Avenue home in September 2009, they found it was not part of Hussain’s portfolio and were left with less than a week to find somewhere to live before term started.
Hussain – who founded Charles Lawson Lettings in Cowley Road in 2005 – later admitted seven counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice and was ordered to pay the students £8,167 in compensation.
But, despite Oxfordshire County Council’s trading standards securing a compensation order, the letting agent did not pay the full amount until last month.
Miss Codner, now 24 and living in London, last month got back all of the £3,292 she was owed, while the six others received compensation between £506 and £1,350.
She 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.
“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.’’ Miss Codner, who is now training to become a primary school teacher, said: “He was ordered to pay the money back, but time passed and we did not get back all of the money owed. I couldn’t believe it when I found out that the trading standards officers had managed to retrieve the money.”
Hussain was given a nine-month jail term suspended for two years at Oxford Crown Court in February 2012 after admitting swindling clients between 2007 and 2009.
He was also told to do 40 hours’ unpaid work, pay £51,136.40 costs and hand over £250,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Trading standards manager Richard Webb said he was glad to see the money returned to the students. He 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.”