Church leaders 'could lose up to £9m in their bid to sell off stake in Wonga'

The Church Commissioners claim the Church of England may not be able to sell the investment for "some considerable time".

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury
Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury

Church of England accountants have revealed they could lose up to £9m in their efforts to offload a stake in payday lender Wonga.

An annual report compiled by the Church Commissioners, which manages £6.1bn of church assets, claimed it may not be able to sell its investment for “some considerable time”.

It comes almost a year after the former Bishop of Durham Justin Welby pledged to sell the Church’s indirect holding in the payday lender, which he said “destroyed” lives and trapped people across the country in poverty.

Commissioners say it “would like to remove our small investment exposure to Wonga” but selling it was proving much harder than anticipated, because it is held through an investment in a fund managed by US venture capital firm Accel Partners.

The Church, which last summer promised to “compete Wonga out of existence” but was a day later revealed to be an investor, said on Friday that it may not be able to sell its stake for “some considerable time”.

A Church Commissioners spokesman said: “The only way to ‘sell Wonga’ is to sell the whole package. This cannot be done on the open market and buyers would demand a significant discount on the value of the investment.

Consequently the Church Commissioners estimate they could lose between £3m and £9m.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who said he was “very embarrassed” about the revelation of the Church’s investment, asked the Commissioners to sell the stake last summer.

The Church, which adheres to a strict ethical investment policy that dictates all investments should be in line with Christian values, banned itself from directly investing in payday lenders in 2001.

Archbishop Welby said Church leaders had not been made aware that the Accel fund investment included a stake in Wonga and were very surprised by the holding.

“They shouldn’t be investing in Wonga; we don’t think that’s a good thing,” he said last July.

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