Simon Read: The only place for Wonga now is in the last-chance saloon

 

Britain's most profitable payday lender, Wonga, got off lightly this week despite being caught using despicable bullying tactics.

The firm sent threatening letters from bogus solicitors to 45,000 customers who were behind with their repayments.

Faking legal letters to scare hard-up customers is sickening. But the controversial high-cost credit company was only forced to pay relatively paltry compensation for the distress caused. Admittedly it was £2.6m, but let's not forget that the firm pocketed profits of around £60m last year.

Wonga escaped a massive fine because of seemingly ridiculous red tape. In short, the current regulator can't take action over those shocking letters because, when the offences were committed, another watchdog was overseeing the company and the credit industry.

That regulator has now been disbanded, leaving a nonsensical legal crack through which Wonga appears to have escaped. (That, of course, begs the question of who else's financial crimes may wriggle through the same crack.)

But if Wonga can't face financial sanctions, shouldn't it face legal action, as some have demanded? The problem with taking the firm to court is that it would be a lengthy business with no guarantee of success.

The people who would be disadvantaged by that would be the victims of Wonga's actions. The lender would have refused to play ball with the regulator or agree compensation while legal action was going on.

But Wonga should not be allowed to get away with its dodgy activities.

Although the letters were sent almost four years ago, that it resorted to such underhand actions paints a picture of a business that is not being run in a responsible way.

The Financial Conduct Authority has the power to withdraw Wonga's credit licence, in effect putting it out of business. While the FCA doesn't have any plans to do so, it should certainly put the payday lender on notice that it's in the last-chance saloon.

Any more despicable actions and Wonga must be closed down.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

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