OFT Orders Wonga to Ensure Improved Debt Collection Practices

Jack Humphrey, Regulatory journalist
May 22, 2012 /

The OFT has required Wonga.com Limited and some of its associates (Wonga) to ensure that aspects of their debt collection practices are acceptable.

The OFT action follows statements made by Wonga to customers in two types of written communications and in the wording of one call script. The OFT’s decisions to impose requirements may be appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (Consumer Credit).

Without having appropriate justification the letters or emails suggested that customers may have committed fraud and that Wonga would consider contacting the police if customers did not act as Wonga requested.

The wording in the call script stated that customers with jobs in the public or financial sectors should not find themselves in debt, and that this was stated in their terms of employment.

As a result, the OFT has imposed a requirement on Wonga that its communications must not, without appropriate justification:

allege that a customer has, or may have, engaged in criminal conduct or refer to the consequences of such conduct
state that a customer should not be in debt if the customer has a certain employment status or for any other reason.
The letters and emails were sent to customers who had claimed money back from Wonga by asking their card providers to reverse a payment made to the company. They were also sent to some customers who had entered into debt management plans.

Failure to adhere to a requirement can lead to the imposition of a fine of up to £50,000 (per instance) and may, under certain circumstances, indicate that a licensee may not be fit to hold a consumer credit licence.

David Fisher, OFT Director of Consumer Credit, said: “We have acted to ensure that Wonga does not behave this way again. I would like to make it clear to businesses that they must not adopt aggressive or misleading practices with their customers”.

The OFT launched an extensive review of the payday lending sector in February. It expects to announce its findings and strategy to raise standards across the sector later this year.

The OFT has issued specific guidance for all businesses engaged in the recovery of consumer credit related debts. The Debt Collection Guidance sets out the standards expected of all business engaging in the activity including creditors, law firms and tracing agents as well as traditional debt collectors.

 

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