Up to six estate agents are banned each year

The Office of Fair Trading has revealed that it bans up to six estate agents per year from selling houses as a result of them being found guilty of criminal offences.

This week, the OFT made a prohibition order against a Northern Ireland estate agent, banning him from selling houses.

Sidney Mawhinney was a sole trader who operated under his own name in Carryduff, County Down. At Downpatrick Crown Court on November 18 2005, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of theft and 13 counts of false accounting.

Mawhinney accepted sums of money from clients on the pretext that this would be used to buy land suitable for development and that he would obtain planning permission for these developments. He took more than 220,000 from 21 clients, and did not invest the money for the customers, rather he stole the proceeds.

On March 28 2006, also at Downpatrick Crown Court, he was sentenced to four years imprisonment which was suspended for four years.

A spokesman for the OFT says: “Since the law was established in 1982, the OFT has banned 280 estate agents from selling houses, which is about six a year.

“There could be more cases but due to the high burden of proof associated with prohibiting estate agents doing business we can’t be sure how many have been successfully barred.

He adds: “It takes time to prohibit the offender as it is such a lengthy process. Lawyers are involved as it is such a serious issue. A lot is at stake in taking away a person’s livelihood.

“By law, an offender is allowed to carrying on practising as an estate agent. We are unsure if Mawhinney carried on, but most of the offenders we know about do continue until we ban them.”