Calls have been made for a criminal investigation of Wonga after claims of misleading debt collection practices.
Newcastle United sponsor Wonga was ordered pay more than £2.6m in compensation to around 45,000 customers for “unfair and misleading debt collection practices”, the City regulator announced this week.
Now the Law Society has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate Wonga in the wake of the controversy.
The Society has also called on the Financial Conduct Authority to hand over copies of its investigation and the Solicitors Regulation Authority to examine whether an offence has been committed under the Legal Services Act 2007.
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: “It seems that the intention behind Wonga’s dishonest activity was to make customers believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a genuine law firm.
“It looks like they also wanted customers to believe that court action undertaken by a genuine law firm would follow if the debt was not repaid.
“Depending on the precise circumstances of what has happened, that could amount to blackmail and deception, as well as offences under the Solicitors Act 1974 and Legal Services Act 2007.”
Wonga, which struck a controversial four-year sponsorship deal with Newcastle United in October 2012, apologised “unreservedly” for the failings, which took place between October 2008 and November 2010.
The Law Society has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate whether the following offences have been committed; obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception and blackmail; offences under section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974; and offences under section 17(1)(a) of the Legal Services Act 2007.
In a letter to the Financial Conduct Authority, Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson has asked that the FCA provides further information about Wonga’s activities, including copies of the letters from non-existent law firms which they sent, as well as copies of the FCA’s investigation files.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been asked by the Law Society to investigate whether there is a case under section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974 or section 17(1)(a) of the Legal Services Act 2007, with a view to prosecution if the investigation discloses sufficient evidence.
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.”
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.