Payday lender complaints 'on rise'
Complaints about payday lenders have more than doubled in the last two years, the financial ombudsman has reported.
Some 794 new complaints about the £2.8 billion industry were taken on in the financial year 2013/14 compared with 296 in 2011/12 and the service warned that these cries for help are likely to be just the "tip of the iceberg".
The ombudsman fears that the "stigma" associated with payday loans is preventing many more people who use them from coming forward to seek its help.
The most common reason for someone making a complaint about a payday loan is that they are being chased for a debt that they had never taken on in the first place, the ombudsman said.
Often, this is due to fraudsters successfully applying for a payday loan by using another person's identity.
Other common causes for complaint include poor service and admin, payday lenders being unwilling to help those willing to repay and using aggressive debt collection practices.
The volume of payday loan borrowers bringing a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) is still tiny compared with more than 66,500 people who sought help with payday loan debt from charity StepChange last year.
The average payday customer seeking StepChange's help was juggling three payday loans.
The FOS is concerned that many people struggling with payday loan debt feel "powerless", but p eople who do go on to complain about a payday lender to the ombudsman are more likely than not to win their case.
Nearly two out of every three (63%) complaints about payday lenders are resolved by the ombudsman in the consumer's favour.
The FOS also wants to see payday lenders taking a more positive approach and helping to raise awareness of the options people have if they do have a payday loan problem.
Principal ombudsman Caroline Wayman said: "We often hear from people who took out a payday loan as a desperate last resort and blame themselves when the debt starts to spiral out of control.
"It's important that people don't feel trapped with nowhere to turn because of the stigma associated with short-term lending."
The whole payday lending industry is currently undergoing a competition investigation, with the full results of this expected later this year.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which took over supervision of the sector in April, has been phasing in a clampdown on payday lenders amid widespread concerns that some borrowers have found themselves caught in a debt spiral by taking on loans they cannot afford to repay on time, meaning the original cost rapidly inflates and they then become trapped with their lender.
From this month onwards, payday firms have been banned from rolling over loans more than twice and the amount of unsuccessful attempts they can make to claw money back out of a borrower's bank account has also been limited to two.
Several major payday firms have also recently signed up to a "real time" information sharing scheme which should help them make better decisions about who to lend to, as the scheme will give them more up-to-date information about people's borrowing habits.
A furore recently erupted when it emerged that the UK's biggest payday lender, Wonga, had sent fake legal letters to customers in order to pressure them into paying up. Wonga has apologised "unreservedly" for the failings, which happened between between October 2008 and November 2010.
Wonga is paying a total of £2.6 million in compensation after sending the correspondence to about 45,000 people and police are currently considering whether or not Wonga should be subject to a criminal investigation.
Mike O'Connor, chief executive of StepChange, said: "The fact that most complaints against payday loan companies are upheld is further evidence that when it comes to acting in the best interests of consumers, in many cases they fail to do so.
"We know that payday loans are often a last resort for people who are already in serious financial difficulty. We urge anyone struggling with any form of debt to get free and impartial debt advice at the earliest opportunity."
Stella Creasy, shadow minister for competition and consumer affairs, said: "Today's news from the financial services ombudsman is confirmation of our status as a nation of silent sufferers.
"Citizens Advice have stated that three-quarters of the cases they see relating to payday lenders could have a case with the watchdog and yet they still only see a few hundred cases a year...
"I would encourage anyone who has concerns about a lender to seek advice and make a complaint."