Wonga to pay out £2.6m after chasing debt with fake letters
Payday lender Wonga is to pay more than £2.6m in compensation to around 45,000 customers for "unfair and misleading debt collection practices", the City regulator has announced. The UK's biggest payday lender was found to have sent letters to customers in arrears from non-existent law firms threatening legal action, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.
In some cases, Wonga added charges to customers' accounts to cover administration fees for sending the letters.
Wonga apologised "unreservedly" for the failings, which took place between October 2008 and November 2010.
The FCA said consumers were put under "great pressure" from communications sent by fictitious law firms to make loan repayments that many could not afford.
Wonga contacted customers in arrears under the names Chainey, D'Amato & Shannon and Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries, leading customers to believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a law firm, or other third party. Further legal action was threatened if the debt was not repaid.
Neither of these firms existed and Wonga was using this tactic to maximise collections by piling the pressure on customers, the regulator said. Tim Weller, interim Wonga CEO, said: "We would like to apologise unreservedly to anyone affected by the historical debt collection activity and for any distress caused as a result.
"The practice was unacceptable and we voluntarily ceased it nearly four years ago."
In 2012 alone Wonga made nearly four million loans to more than one million customers. The agreement it has come to with the FCA means that it must identify and pay redress to everyone affected. Some customers will receive cash, others are likely to have their outstanding balance reduced.
The FCA, which has been clamping down on the payday loans sector since it took over its regulation in April, will oversee the process to make sure people receive the money they are owed.
Customers who have been affected do not have to take action as Wonga will be pro-actively contacting them.
All 45,000 customers who were sent letters will be offered a flat rate of £50 for their distress and inconvenience. On top of this, those who were charged fees for the letters will be refunded.
Customers are estimated to have paid £400,000 in charges for being referred to the fictitious law firms.
In some cases, additional compensation payments may be made, depending on individual circumstances. The process will start by mid-July with compensation likely to be paid from the end of next month.
Wonga said that while reviewing its records in preparation for FCA regulation, it has also discovered technical errors, unrelated to the historic debt collection practices, which have resulted in just under 200,000 customers overpaying the company.
Wonga said it is now also contacting these customers to offer compensation, and the majority overpaid by less than £5.
It said that a greater number of people underpaid as a result of these technical errors, but it will not be seeking repayments from anyone who underpaid.