A former Calderdale businessman who profited from duping elderly people into believing they were owed thousands of pounds has been ordered to pay out more than £12,500.
Jack Henry, also known as Darrell Littlewood, used to run Halifax debt recovery firm OCM and owned Scarborough Football Club.
The 45-year-old was prosecuted after his business Council Tax Review sent flyers to homes across West Yorkshire falsely telling residents they were in the wrong council tax band and were due a refund.
It is understood to be the first prosecution of its kind.
Prosecutor Howard Shaw told Bradford Crown Court: “The nub of the prosecution is the false and misleading claims made by the defendant’s business to a number of clients.
“The flyers, the letters and the sales pitch put forward by the defendant and his agents encouraged people to contract with him and ‘stop paying more council tax than their neighbours’.”
Agents, including Henry himself, visited people who got in touch and told them they could expect to receive rebates of up to £3,000.
Payments of between £95 and £185 were taken from them by the firm to apply to the Valuation Office Agency for a review on their behalf.
Some customers agreed to pay a percentage of any rebate in commission to the firm.
West Yorkshire Trading Standards officers launched an investigation after complaints from customers from September 2009 to September 2010.
Five of the 12 complainants were elderly and infirm.
Henry’s firm failed to submit any paperwork at all on behalf of two of them, and sent off forms containing “worthless” information for three others.
Four of the complainants had a change of heart and wrote to cancel their contract within seven days, but they were not paid a refund as promised.
The firm charged one 90-year-old woman £95 for a successful application which resulted in a council tax refund.
She was then charged a further £95 for an agent to try and claim interest on the money on her behalf.
Mr Shaw told the court this was not legally possible.
Henry, of Mirfield, admitted 14 counts of engaging in misleading commercial practices.
David Friesner, mitigating, said the business was otherwise legal and legitimate even though residents can apply to the Valuation Agency Office themselves for a review free of charge.
He said the service had helped many customers recoup overpaid council tax without any problems.
“What it amounts to is this: he wasn’t really doing what it said on the tin,” he said.
Former deputy mayor of Calderdale, Thomas Wood, wrote a witness statement in support of Henry.
The 84-year-old and his wife claimed back £3,850 in overpaid council tax through his firm, the court heard.
Mr Friesner added that he had not targeted elderly people but had researched areas where similar houses were in different council tax brackets.
Henry, who the court heard goes by a number of aliases, has a previous conviction for false accounting and a caution for fraud by false representation.
His firm is still in business under the name Reband, which has 7,000 current clients and employs 33 people.
The court heard it had processed 25 successful reviews last month but an average of three complaints a day were still being made to West Yorkshire Trading Standards about it.
The Recorder of Bradford, Judge James Stewart QC, said what Council Tax Review had done came “within a whisker of fraud”.
He said: “You deliberately over-egged the pudding in order to draw in clients.
“Those who agreed to contract with you were inadequately served, if at all, by your business.”
He sentenced him to 9 months in prison, suspended for a year, and ordered him to do 150 hours’ unpaid work.
He must also pay £12,500 in costs and refund the complainants.