A notice has appeared on the window of an agent that suddenly closed down saying that the company is under investigation for criminal fraud and asking for information.
The notice reads: “Warning to all tenants and landlords with Hot Homes UK. This company is currently under investigation for criminal fraud.”
It asks anyone with a complaint or information to ring the police fraud office on 0845 277 7444.
Both police and local Trading Standards are said to be taking an interest in the case. The Hot Homes website says: “Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control we have had to close.”
Hothomes UK opened in Plymouth last August, and handled sales and lettings. It also apparently started an EPC business, metroepc, this April, and there are suggestions that the Burridge family, who ran Hothomes, may have had at least one Home Information Pack business, Fast HIPS UK.
Last December, the Property Codes Compliance Board suspended the registration of a search firm. The Board said at the time that Ms K & Mrs J Burridge, trading as Search Pack UK and Epcworx (also previously known as Fasthipsuk, also trading as Southwest Energy Assessors, Hipsearchuk and Myhipsearchuk), had been removed from the Board’s register.
However, as reported at the time, here was nothing to stop them, or other suspended firms, continuing to trade, as the PCCB is a voluntary regulator.
The Board said that Search Pack UK failed to meet its compliance requirements, and that the Plymouth-based company failed to submit information required for a compliance spot check within specified deadlines.
Meanwhile, details of HothomesUk.co Ltd at Companies House say the firm is ‘active’ but there is a ‘proposal to strike off’.
Companies House also lists other firms, involved in EPCs and property searches, which appear to have the same director, Jacqueline Burridge, and addresses. A company called EPCworx.com was created in May 2010. An internet forum has complaints from people who claim they paid for but did not receive their EPCs, and DEAs who claim they went unpaid.
Landlords and tenants are now extremely concerned as to their missing deposits and rents, and the whereabouts of keys held by the firm.
On one internet forum, a furious landlord said they were owed £4,630 with allegations that the deposits were not protected.
An upset tenant wrote: “I started renting through them a month ago. I paid a two hundred pound insurance policy, £675 deposit and £675 rent up front. I struggled very hard to get all this together and now when I went to pay the rent today they have gone.
“My landlord has not seen a penny so I have just paid him directly. This still leaves me £875 out of pocket and my landlord £675 out of pocket, no wonder they liked you to pay in cash!!”
The Westcountry Landlords Association said it has been receiving calls from worried landlords across the city since the weekend when businesses reported people removing items from Hothomes’ office.
Hothomes’ directors appear to be Jacqueline Burridge and her daughter Kayleigh Burridge, but it is understood the business may have also involved Mrs Burridge’s husband Tony Burridge and others. There are suggestions on the internet that Tony Burridge had been bankrupt.
Hothomes, which was thought to have employed up to eight people, was also involved in commercial sales, conveyancing and financial services.
According to the local paper, the Burridge family moved to Plymouth from North Devon in 1998 and started a business producing EPCs in 2007.
A year later they started a business producing more than 100 HIPs a week.
They started Hothomes after HIPs were scrapped.