On the 5th February 2014 the Office of Fair Trading issued, in a press release, that they would not be renewing the Consumer Credit Licence of any of the debt companies owned by, or associate with, solicitors Turnbull Rutherford. In addition, they have expelled Alasdair Turnbull from the group licence of the Law Society, something which itself has never been done before and which is therefore without precedent.
Here is the relevant text from the OFT's website:
OFT finds three debt businesses unfit and excludes a solicitor from undertaking licensable activities
08/14 5 February 2014
The OFT has refused to renew the consumer credit licences of debt purchaser HFO Capital Limited, and two associated Hdebt collectors, FO Services Limited and Roxburghe (UK) Limited.
Alasdair Turnbull, a solicitor who acted for the group of firms, has also today been excluded from the group consumer credit licence held by the Law Society for England and Wales.
The OFT found evidence of misleading and unfair practices in the businesses' operations, including:
- sending debt collection letters which misrepresented debtors' legal position
- misleading and otherwise inappropriate behaviour by HFO and Roxburghe agents during phone calls to debtors
- failing to properly investigate disputed debts
- failure to respond appropriately to the concerns of regulators, including the OFT.
David Fisher, OFT Senior Director for Consumer Credit, said:
'We expect businesses in the debt collection sector to behave with integrity and treat their customers fairly and transparently. We will not hesitate to refuse to license debt collection businesses that fail to do so.'
The parties have until 24 February 2014 to appeal the decision.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 requires businesses that offer goods or services on credit, or lend money, or are involved in activities relating to credit or hire, to be licensed by the OFT. The OFT has a statutory duty under the Act to administer the consumer credit licensing regime, and must be satisfied that a licensee is fit to hold a consumer credit licence. Trading without a licence in such cases is a criminal offence and can result in a fine and/or imprisonment.
The OFT's consumer credit team currently has 32 investigations open into firms which intelligence suggests are engaged in unfair practices or may be otherwise unfit to hold a licence.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will take over regulation of consumer credit from the OFT on 1 April 2014. The transfer of regulation is part of the Government's programme of regulatory changes for financial services and brings conduct of business regulation under a single financial services regulator. See the FCA's website for more information.
Businesses seeking a consumer credit licence should see the Consumer credit changes page for more information.
Our reporter tried calling Turnbull Rutherford'd published number, 0208 545 6600, but the call was met with a recoded message:
"BEE-BEE-BEEP. This number is temporarily out of order. We are sorry for anconvenience."