OFT has opened formal investigations into several payday lenders over aggressive debt collection practices.

A shop window advertising payday loans.

A shop window advertising payday loans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The OFT has opened formal investigations into several payday lenders over aggressive debt collection practices. It is also today writing to all 240 payday lenders highlighting its emerging concerns over poor practices in the sector.

These actions are set out in a progress report published today as part of the OFT’s compliance review of the payday lending sector. It highlights concerns about:

  • the adequacy of checks made by some lenders on whether loans will be affordable for borrowers
  • the proportion of loans that are not repaid on time
  • the frequency with which some lenders roll over or refinance loans
  • the lack of forbearance shown by some lenders when borrowers get into financial difficulty
  • debt collection practices.

The OFT is continuing to gather and analyse information about the activities of payday lenders as its compliance review progresses. It also expects to warn the majority of the 50 firms inspected, which account for the majority of loans, that they risk enforcement action if they do not improve specific practices and procedures which came to light when they were inspected. The OFT will require those lenders it warns to provide it with independent audits to verify that they have improved their practices and procedures to comply with legal obligations and expected standards.

The emerging findings are based on information from a wide range of sources, including:

  • a ‘sweep’ of the websites of 50 payday lenders
  • a programme of inspections of over 50 individual lenders
  • 686 consumer complaints
  • a mystery shopper exercise involving 156 online and high street lenders
  • 1,036 responses to a survey of businesses, trade associations and consumer bodies.

They have uncovered evidence that some payday lenders are acting in ways that are so serious, that they have already opened formal investigations against them. It is also clear they have said, that across the sector, lenders need to improve their business practices or risk enforcement action.

‘Their report shows that a large number of payday loans are not repaid on time. I would urge anyone thinking about taking out a payday loan to make sure they fully understand the costs involved so they can be sure they can afford to repay it.

‘Their revised guidance makes it absolutely clear to lenders what they expect from them when using continuous payment authority to recover debts and that we will not accept its misuse.’

The Consumer Credit Act 1974 requires most businesses offering credit, lending money or involved in activities relating to credit or hire, such as debt collectors, to be licensed by the OFT. The OFT produces guidance to clarify its expectations of those companies and individuals that hold a consumer credit licence. Failure to have regard to OFT guidance can call into consideration the business’ fitness to hold a consumer credit licence.

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