The UK’s biggest payday loans company, Wonga, is set to pay £2.6m compensation to about 45,000 customers after sending letters threatening legal action from non-existent law firms.
The letters, sent to customers in arrears, were sent under the names ‘Chainey, D’Amato & Shannon’ and ‘Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries’.
In some instances, Wonga also added charges to customers’ accounts to cover the administration fees associated with sending the letters.
The practice took place between October 2008 and November 2010, and was uncovered by former consumer credit regulator, the Office of Fair Trading, the following year. The Financial Conduct Authority took over the investigation on 1 April 2014, and is working with the payday loans company to resolve the issue.
Wonga has apologised to its customers, both for the fabricated letters and for a separate system error relating to the calculation of arrears on customer accounts.
Tim Weller, Wonga’s interim CEO said in a statement: “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.”
The loans company has been rapidly building its in-house legal team since launching in 2007. It currently comprises Kemp Little’s former managing partner Lucy Vernall, who became its first-ever general counsel in 2011. In the same year, it also took on legacy Herbert Smith partner Henry Raine as its regulatory chief (21 February 2011).
In March 2014, Wonga hired Betfair’s former legal director Justin Hubble as its legal vice president (6 March 2014).