Trader pays for his unfair practices

Published: 26 Nov 2018

A trader has been sentenced in relation to two counts of fraud under the Fraud Act 2006 and one of engaging in an unfair commercial practice under regulation 11 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, following a successful prosecution by Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards service.


Christopher Whatcott, 42, of no fixed abode, had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges but was found guilty by a jury following a trial earlier this month.


The court heard that the offences related to his business model of referring house sellers to assessors who would be able to supply Energy Performance Certificates.


Whatcott charged £14.95 for his referral service, payable within 24 hours after the consumer had made the call, thereby restricting the usual right to cancel.  Failure to meet this deadline resulted in a penalty charge of £85.


The defendant had argued that his business model was legitimate, even though he had previously been tried for a similar offence in 2017, when he had received a suspended prison sentence.


On that occasion, Whatcott had been the director of limited companies that had contracted with consumers; receiving a 10 year disqualification as a director as part of his punishment; but now operated as a sole trader.


In sentencing last Thursday, the Judge accepted that Whatcott had operated over a short period of time and that the amounts of money generated were relatively small.  He also took into account that the defendant had no previous experience of a custodial sentence.


However, he added that previous court appearances had not deterred Whatcott, who had made a conscious decision to repeat the same or very similar conduct.  “You are using unacceptable business practices to make profit,” he added.


Whatcott was given a custodial sentence of 15 months and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £140.  He was also given a compensation order for two consumers, totalling £74.


Councillor Terry Hone, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “This trader used terms which were unfair for a number of reasons.


“Selling a house can be stressful enough for people, without being taken advantage of in this way.”