A SOUTHAMPTON letting agent has been banned from trading for at least three years and described as “dishonest and deceitful” by the industry watchdog.

Property Vibe and The Flat Agency & Michael Browns (TFAMB) have been expelled by the Property Ombudsman after dozens of complaints that they failed to repay deposits.

“Devastated” owner Andrew Whitehead has apologised after the Property Ombudsman (TPO) warned consumers to look out for his brands.

The agent, from Shirley, said he had faced a “nightmare” with tax bills.

Commenting on TFAMB, TPO Board chairman Gerry Fitzjohn said: “Cases like these are extremely rare but this agent has demonstrated a complete lack of regard for its clients, and failed to forward money to them which it should have been keeping in a separate clients’ money account.

"The firm committed several flagrant breaches of the TPO Codes of Practice for Residential Letting Agents and has been expelled as a result.”

Student agency Property Vibe is based in Portswood and describes itself as an “independent, energetic, family run business”.

The Flat Agency and Michael Brown’s has a one-star rating from tenants on Google Reviews, with 10 complaints over failure to repay deposits.

Mr Whitehead, 42, from Rownhams, is director of seven dissolved property companies with two in liquidation, according to Companies House records.

He said: “As the director of the agency I apologise profusely for what has happened and for the distress caused to people.

"We have been operating since 2004, and although [we] changed company names a few times [it] has been the same business, once employing a number of staff.

“Over the past few years the business has begun to deteriorate and everything has been done to try and keep trading and trade through the issues.

“We have downsized offices and staff many times to cut costs but it just hasn’t stopped the decline.

“We as a business have many landlords as well, where we offer a tenant find service, and have been very satisfied with the service over a number of years.

“I am devastated to get to this point and never wanted to upset anybody at all, but understand now as the final director of the various businesses responsibility falls on my shoulders.”

Mr Whitehead denied winding up companies and starting new ones to avoid debts.