The hearing at Ashford Employment Tribunal follows an investigation by the EAS, which is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Steven Mark Howard was Company Secretary and his wife Amanda Howard a Director of Hire Management Limited based in Mitcham, Surrey. At the same time that Mr Howard was involved in the running of Hire Management, he was employed by two different companies in a recruitment capacity: ERA Technology Limited and Railtrack (now Network Rail).
The Employment Tribunal heard that as a result of an investigation by British Transport Police, the couple from Heathfield, East Sussex, pleaded guilty to two charges of false accounting on 4 April 2008 at Kingston Crown Court.
Mr Howard used his position at ERA to enlist the recruitment services of Hire Management then raised invoices for advertising costs far in excess of the amount actually incurred, claimed false expenses and invoiced ERA for placing candidates he had placed himself. Whilst working at Railtrack as a recruitment manager, Mr Howard had signed a contract agreeing not to hold any related posts while employed by them. Despite this, in the three years he worked there, Hire Management submitted invoices to Railtrack for placing contractors and staff totalling £1m.
Mrs Howard was responsible for the administrative and accounting functions of Hire Management and generated the invoices her husband approved. They both claimed expenses from Railtrack they were not entitled to but which had been authorised by Mr Howard.
Steven Howard was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and Amanda Howard was sentenced to 40 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 24 months, and ordered to undertake unpaid work for 240 hours. At a subsequent confiscation hearing both Mr and Mrs Howard were ordered to pay back over £44,000 each plus £20,668.98 in compensation.
The Tribunal banned Mr and Mrs Howard from running or being concerned with the running of an employment agency or employment business for the maximum period of 10 years.
Edward Davey, the Minister responsible for employment relations, said:
“A vibrant and well-run private recruitment sector is a vital part of this country’s economy. However, it is essential that employment agencies operate within the law and deal with work-seekers and hirers in a fair and transparent manner.
"This Tribunal decision sends out a clear message to the industry that we will take action against those agents who act illegally.”
The Howards’ conduct was brought to the attention of the EAS by the British Transport Police and EAS assisted the police in their investigation.
Notes to editors:
1. The Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills made an application to prohibit Steven Howard and Amanda Howard under Section 3A of the Employment Agencies Act 1973.
2. Under the Act, Employment Tribunals may prohibit individuals, companies or partnerships, from carrying on, or being concerned with the carrying on, of an employment agency or an employment business for a period of up to ten years on grounds of misconduct or for any other sufficient reason.
3. Employment Tribunals will consider evidence from BIS on applications made by the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills and can issue a total ban against a person or attach certain conditions attached to any order.
4. Steven Howard and Amanda Howard pleaded guilty to two charges of False Accounting (contrary to section 17(1)(a) of the Theft Act 1968) on 4 April 2008 at Kingston Crown Court.
5. Anyone with a complaint or query about an employment agency or about the law applying to agencies should contact the Employment Agency Standards. Agency workers can find out more about the rights they are entitled to by visiting www.direct.gov.uk/agencyworkers or by calling the Pay and Work Rights helpline on 0800 917 2368.
6. The Employment Agency Standards inspectorate is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. To find out more about the EAS, please visit www.bis.gov.uk/eas
7. Agencies that break the law can face prosecution and courts may impose unlimited fines for the most serious offences. Rogue agencies can also be banned from operating for up to ten years. A current list of prohibited people is available on the EAS website www.bis.gov.uk/eas
8. BIS' online newsroom contains the latest press notices, speeches, as well as video and images for download. It also features an up to date list of BIS press office contacts. See http://www.bis.gov.uk/newsroom for more information.