So how can they punish Wonga now

When the government is doing the same thing?

Warnings sent by ‘Smith Lawson and Company’ to graduates for the last nine years carry a banner in red stating ‘Do Not Ignore This Letter’, with a demand for payment within seven days and a threat of legal action.

They gave the impression of a separate company with the line: ‘We are instructed by our client, in connection with the sum outstanding shown above.’

But the supposed firm does not exist and is little more than a masthead designed to intimidate.

The Student Loans Company (SLC) is a subsidiary of the Government and reports to Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The firm said it introduced Smith Lawson as a ‘cost-saving exercise’ because the use of conventional debt collection agencies required payment of commission.

Last week City watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) revealed Wonga would have to pay £2.6million compensation to 45,000 people sent letters from two invented debt recovery firms.

Bit tricky that, isn’t it?

31 comments on “So how can they punish Wonga now

  1. We are sure HM Government isn’t a wholly owned subsidiary of Wonga, aren’t we? Despite the evidence?

  2. There are so many instances now where it is ok if the state does it, but it is illegal for the private sector, that I fear the so called police state is here for the duration.

    From the trivial, like law makers being the only people allowed to smoke at their place of work,to the vital right to bear arms, the State is an entity above the law.

  3. Excellent point and well done for raising it, no-one seems to want to talk about this. Not often I agree with Mr Worstall but credit where it’s due here.

  4. I once had troubles with one of those debt collecting groups that was convinced I owed Orange £20 for some reason I couldn’t fathom. Researching these sc*mbags showed that they virtually all have in house collecting agencies that pretend to be a different one.

  5. Does the Government invent fictitious legal firms and pretend they are sending out the letters? Isn’t that the main case against Wonga, the fraudulent representation?

  6. Surely the Government are worse than Wonga in this instance. Wonga merely invented a fake debt collection agency in order to collect debts more efficiently. SLC invented a fake debt collection agency in order to collect debts more efficiently, AND gave it the same initials as themselves in order to have a smug self-congratulatory laugh at anyone who fell for it.

    The BBC’s standard letters to any house without a TV licence are very carefully worded so that it takes real effort and nous to figure out that they’re not actually advising you that they’ve already started legal proceedings against you and you’ll be given a court date any day.

  7. As a genuine non-TV owner (who needs it? I have Usenet) I can confirm that the methods deployed by TV Licencing are genuniely repulsive.

  8. Squander2. Although a careful reading shows the repulsive BBC’s threatening letters are paper tigers, it signs them ‘John Hales, Regional Enforcement Manager’, a fictitious individual & title. That’s a lie.

  9. To be honest, I don’t see the problem with using a fake debt collection agency when there is an actual debt to recover. The receipient is being fooled into paying up, but then they have to pay up anyway as they are in debt. If its saving the business some money that they would otherwise have to spend on fees, then it translates to savings that can be passed on to the customer/debtor (if there is enough competition in the market).

  10. My understanding is that Wonga charged borrowers fees for the “solicitors” letters, as if they had incurred legal costs when they had not. So not only did they commit a criminal offence under the Solicitors Act (impersonating a solicitor), but also obtained money belonging to another by deception, an offence under the Theft Act.

    SLA on the other hand obtained money by deception that was actually due to them. So not very ethical, but not a criminal offence ASFAIK. Possibly there was some breach of company law for not putting the name of the actual relevant company on the letters.

    So there is a slight difference, albeit not much.

  11. @IanB ‘As a genuine non-TV owner (who needs it? I have Usenet) I can confirm that the methods deployed by TV Licencing are genuniely repulsive.’

    Tell me more?

    I hate the BBC so much I’m thinking of scrapping the telly, which would be a major hardship only insofar as I like to watch the rugby and the cricket.

    What would I be in for?

  12. @Luke

    ‘So not only did they commit a criminal offence under the Solicitors Act (impersonating a solicitor)…’

    Hmmm. The Solicitors Act only applies if they actually claimed they were solicitors, or implied they were. I don’t know if they did, but I saw one letterhead that referred to something like Legal Debt Recovery; it didn’t go so far as to put the words ‘Solicitor’ or ‘law firm’ or anything like that on it. A lot probably depends on the wording of the letters. How far do they go? I’d be amazed if their own in-house lawyer(s), which they MUST have, didn’t have a glance at the letter before it went out.

    ‘…but also obtained money belonging to another by deception, an offence under the Theft Act. SLA on the other hand obtained money by deception that was actually due to them.’

    As regards the Theft Act 1968, the fraud elements of this were superseded by the Fraud Act 2006 (though the Theft Act definition of the ‘gain’ part of fraud is still as per the old Act), which was getting what one has not (got).

    Wonga didn’t have (i.e. had not got) the cash, and neither did SLC.

    Yes, they were owed it, but in both cases that was a civil matter, and it was properly only recoverable by lawful means through the civil process.

    By (apparently) making false representations (the other element of the offence) to make this gain they may (both) be in trouble.

    Unless anyone else can say better?

  13. What would I be in for?

    Well very little really apart from lots of annoying letters. It will start with a demand to know why you haven’t got a licence, if you ignore that they will say they are sending someone to check that you aren’t watching illegally, they probably won’t. Then you’ll get the pretend ‘we’re taking you to court’ letter, if you still ignore the tossers it just repeats itself, eventually they even stop addressing it to you personally and just put The Householder.

    If they do send someone you don’t have to answer their questions and my advice would be not to respond to them in any way. Just as you would if someone called demanding to see evidence of a lack of a fridge or lawnmower. They’re just sales reps working on commission and trying to sucker some poor sod in to paying for something they don’t need to out of fear.

  14. Also if you do get rid of the telly don’t make the mistake I did of telling them. Just stop buying a licence and don’t respond to any demands to know why. I filled in the bit on the form saying I didn’t need a licence any more as I no longer owned a TV and that just triggered a phone call in which the women on the other end tried to trick me into admitting ( as if it were a crime ) that I owned a computer. If I had said I did I don’t doubt that she would have claimed I still needed a licence which I don’t of course. They attempt to instill the idea that having a licence is all but unavoidable when in reality it’s very avoidable whether you own a TV or not. If only more people realised that and just stopped paying for it the whole crooked business would collapse.

  15. @Thornavis, Dongguan John

    Thanks chaps – that was pretty much as I expected, they have to work on bluff.

    I’d actually have to can the TV because you can only get the cricket and rugby via Sky, and while they (probably, haven’t looked at the exemptions) could not divulge because of Data Protection, my Sky dish would be visible from the road.

    I would request Sky to remove the BBC from my service, but I believe that’s been tried and has failed?

  16. I would request Sky to remove the BBC from my service, but I believe that’s been tried and has failed?

    If Sky offered this, I’d be calling them right now. Unfortunately, as I understand the law, a TV licence is still required even if you only watch non-BBC broadcasts.

    It makes sense to me, now that we only have digital TV broadcasts, that the service provider (eg Sky) should be given the task of collecting the licence fee. For a cut, of course. Then the choice of having access to BBC programming could be just another account setting, for presumably £150pa.

    Those receiving content via FreeView could buy a CAM from TV licensing or something for their £150.

    The BBC would then not have to worry either about non-payers (those that didn’t pay up wouldn’t be able to watch); or about accusations of bias (as a subscription service it would have to cater for the tastes of all its subscribers, not just the Grauniad readers.)

    However, it seems that the BBC is so blinkered in its statism-uber-alles mindset that it considers a licence with all the drawbacks as far superior to a subscription service that, several (internal and external) studies have shown would raise more revenue.

    But after all, if we all value the output of the BBC as much as they claim we do, what would they have to fear?

  17. When I stopped paying the TV licence I filled out a form on their website stating that I only used my TV for watching DVDs and similar. They sent someone around to check. I was out, but the GF let him in.

    She pointed to the TV, pointed to the antennae socket and pointed out the lack of a cable connecting the two. He then agreed to leave us alone. That was three years ago and we haven’t had any trouble with them since.

  18. @Interested
    Points re BBC:
    1. Yes, you must have a licence if you watch any kind of TV (Sky etc) but only as it’s broadcast. Watching DVDs or internet-streamed movies or iplayer, you don’t.
    2. Retailers are the BBC’s main source of information on TV owners – they take your address when you buy a TV (usually saying it’s for the warranty) and pass it to the BBC. The bigger retailers have an online network connection to the BBC.
    3. They send the exact same threatening letter to all non-licence holders every month. A public-spirited bloke at bbctvlicence.com publishes them.
    4. They do sometimes call and try to find out who you are & get admission. They cannot demand either so give them no information and tell them you’re removing their presumed right of access and so they must leave your doorstep forthwith. They always do. Plenty of Internet videos showing this working & you can make one of your own if you fancy drama.

  19. Retailers are the BBC’s main source of information on TV owners – they take your address when you buy a TV (usually saying it’s for the warranty) and pass it to the BBC.

    And the officious little twats in UK retail outlets love this, citing a “legal requirement” to obtain your address when you buy a DVD player. Which it isn’t, of course, but British jobsworths like nothing better than to cite the law as they wish it was.

  20. I have not had a television for over 20 years. I told them that I do not need a licence because there has been nothing worth watching since Dave Allen retired. Every three years they send a letter asking if that is still the case, reasonably politely but pointing out the penalties should I be telling porkies. Although I disagree with the TV licence, their enforcement of it has not seemed too oppressive. Perhaps I am lucky.

  21. @ Interested & others – re BBC Licensing

    Apparently, even if one of their sales reps (in full bluff mode) did visit, looking for his £20 commission; if you have any form of visible CCTV (or anything posing as that), I believe they are under instructions to simply walk away (rather than knock)?

    Possibly because of too many entertaining clips on you tube where they were being made to look like muppets (ie having the piss taken out of them on the door step before being told to lump it)?

    And guessing it risked turning into a sport? Not good for either morale or their “authority” image!

  22. Many years ago, my mother encountered one of their goons who knocked on the door demanding entry to see if she had a TV.

    She responded with “We don’t have a TV because…” and before she could get as far as a reason, the goon was literally running away down the drive.

    I’ve not had a licence (or a TV) since I left home – I get a regular monthly letter to the “legal occupier” which goes in the bin unopened.

    I refuse to tell them I haven’t got a TV – it’s about time they took to minding their own business.

  23. The detector vans are the best laugh. Apparently the BBC (or whoever) refuse to divulge the secrets of how they work (i.e. they don’t) and thus they are inadmissible as evidence in court. It’s a scam where they prey on the stupid and vulnerable to admit to watching TV or to pay when they have no requirement to. If everyone realised how easy it is to get away without paying the whole licence scam would fall to pieces in days.

  24. Richard,

    > Every three years they send a letter asking if that is still the case, reasonably politely but pointing out the penalties should I be telling porkies. Although I disagree with the TV licence, their enforcement of it has not seemed too oppressive. Perhaps I am lucky.

    Polite? Blimey. Who did you have to fuck for that?

    What pisses me off about their letters (to everyone but Richard) is that, if any other firm tried the same tactic, the BBC would drag their name through the mud on Watchdog. And rightly so.

    Dongguan John,

    > The detector vans are the best laugh. Apparently the BBC (or whoever) refuse to divulge the secrets of how they work (i.e. they don’t)

    I’ve heard this before. I very much doubt they can detect modern flat-screens, but I’m sure they could detect CRTs. I know not everyone gets this, but I’m one of those people who can tell if a CRT is on, with the sound off, through a wall. It emits a sort of feeling, like a very high-pitched noise but also sort of not quite a noise. Difficult to describe to those who don’t get the same feeling — and I was surprised to discover that not everyone does. Anyway, if some of us can detect CRTs, they must be doing something detectable, so surely someone could have built a machine to detect that.

    Interested,

    > I’d actually have to can the TV because you can only get the cricket and rugby via Sky, and while they (probably, haven’t looked at the exemptions) could not divulge because of Data Protection, my Sky dish would be visible from the road.

    With Sky Go, you no longer need the dish.

  25. Anyway, if some of us can detect CRTs, they must be doing something detectable, so surely someone could have built a machine to detect that.

    As I understand it from a physics teacher: the television signal which contains the information is weak, and so it is transmitted on a much stronger carrier wave. A television emits an identical signal shifted by half a cycle to eliminate the carrier wave and leave only the information. The detectors pick up the emitted signal. Don’t know if this is accurate or not, but that’s what I was told.

  26. @Tim,

    That’s very interesting, thanks. I always thought that the TV’s receiver was totally passive so wondered how on earth they could claim to detect reception of broadcast TV. Still, am I right in believing that if they won’t give details of how it works it cannot be used as evidence in court?

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