Revealed: Scots boss at payday loan firm orders staff to keep desperate Cheque Centre clients crippled in debt
ILLIAN CUTHBERT told Cheque Centre workers to offer borrowers “roll over” monthly loans – meaning they would stay in debt indefinitely.
A TOP boss at a major payday loan firm ordered staff to keep desperate families mired in debt.
Gillian Cuthbert, Scottish regional manager at Cheque Centre, told workers in an email not to offer simple, fixed repayment plans to people struggling to pay back loans with crippling interest rates.
She told the shop assistants instead to get borrowers to “roll over” monthly loans, meaning they would stay in debt.
People who “roll over” only pay a monthly fee, not any of the cash they owe, and can be saddled indefinitely with massive fees.
Cuthbert banned her workers at branches in Scotland and Northern Ireland from talking to customers about the 14-day cooling off period for loans.
She also ordered staff not to ask questions designed to establish whether customers could afford loans, and not to discuss what would happen if people couldn’t repay.
Cuthbert wrote: “Do not run over 14-day cooling-off period, adequate questions theme, and do not cover if you cannot pay back: 100 per cent compliance please.”
Shockingly, Cuthbert also told staff to ask penniless customers who couldn’t afford to repay anything “if they have any gold at home”.
Employees were told to say gold could be used “to keep your account up to date”. Cheque Centre are also pawnbrokers.
The company are signed up to the Consumer Finance Association code of conduct. Cuthbert’s advice appears to flout it in multiple ways.
The big companies in the payday loan industry have made billions from hard-up Britons struggling in the economic downturn.
Cuthbert’s email, obtained by our investigators, will add to widespread concerns about how some in the industry treat vulnerable customers.
Scottish Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “We simply cannot wait any longer to act on payday loan companies. These are legal loan sharks exploiting families across the country.”
The SNP’s John Mason, deputy convener of the Holyrood finance committee, added: “Austerity UK is causing real pain for so many on low incomes. It is sickening that this is being exploited by unscrupulous payday firms.”
One former Cheque Centre worker, who left in disgust earlier this year, said: “What they are doing to people is indefensible. I couldn’t go on with a clear conscience.
“They have people who are clearly desperate, many maxed out with the full £1000 loan, who keep rolling over for years, paying thousands in fees and paying off nothing.
“These people need help and good advice, to explain that they can pay down the debt by paying a little more a month to get on an even keel.”
Cuthbert brags on business networking service LinkedIn about her “proven people skills, resulting in consistent optimum revenue growth”.
Her July 10 email to staff in all Scots and Northern Irish branches gave directions on “influencing buy back” – convincing debtors to roll over loans rather than paying them off at a small extra cost.
Customers can borrow up to £1000, repayable in full at the end of the month, plus a fee for every £100 borrowed. At the time the email was written, the fee was £27.50. It’s now £30.
Cuthbert’s email gave the cost of repaying a £100 loan on a four-month Fixed Repayment Plan – £39.38 a month, just £11.88 more than the £27.50 monthly fee.
That would cover the original loan, the £27.50 fee and a £30 fee for late payment.
But Cuthbert told staff: “I would encourage you not to get into conversations on FRP.”
She said it was better to let the firm’s head office deal with customers who could not repay. They “could get an account paid back in two weeks”. She added: “This is my preference.”
She went on: “Don’t try to negotiate a four-month pay-back plan… keep the account live, it’s your customer.”
Cuthbert told staff dealing with people behind on payments to call them – three times a day. And she used the example of a fictional customer called Gillian to instruct workers on how best to get money out of debtors.
She wrote: “If they say difficulties paying, break down to ‘What can you give me today?’
“Try to negotiate more: ‘Hey Gillian, do you have any gold at home, I can use it to keep your account up to date.’”
Cuthbert then told staff to at least get the £27.50 fee out of customers to roll the loan over – as an “absolute minimum to stay in good stead and keep the account live”.
She said staff should say that “£39.38 is more per month than £27.50 rollover”. She added: “Coach this only if you get into the situation”.
Cuthbert advised staff to tell customers they would “miss them” if they had to be dealt with by head office, and that the firm could no longer lend to them if that happened.
They were to say: “That would be a shame. What time can I expect you today with the £27.50?
“Hey Gillian, I want to keep you using me as a financial resource, I want to give you cash, and give you the cash quick when you need it, what time can you come down today and see me.”
The CFA code of conduct clearly states: “Members shall not target individuals by marketing the payday loan where the product would be wholly inappropriate.”
It adds: “Members shall offer a facility so a customer may, no more than five days before their loan is due for repayment, apply for a Fixed Repayment Plan.”
The code tells firms to “advise potential customers of the short-term nature of the loan, and that it is unsuitable for long-term use.”
And it says customers should be given an explanation of “the 14-day right to withdraw”.
Cheque Centre did not respond to requests for comment. Cuthbert, 39, of Edinburgh, told us: “I can’t make any comment. You will need to contact our head office.”
Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “Sadly, this report is not the first time we have heard of unscrupulous practices by payday loan companies.
“Across Scotland, we’re seeing clients whose payday debts have spiralled out of control. We’re seeing hardship and misery caused across the country.”
Margaret said Citizens Advice could tell people if their lender had treated them unfairly, and how to do something about it.