Following recent news reports into misleading debt collection practices, the Law Society has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate Wonga. The Society has also called on the Financial Conduct Authority to hand over copies of its investigation and the Solicitors Regulation Authority to examine whether an offence has been committed under the Legal Services Act 2007.
Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: “It seems that the intention behind Wonga’s dishonest activity was to make customers believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a genuine law firm. It looks like they also wanted customers to believe that court action undertaken by a genuine law firm would follow if the debt was not repaid. Depending on the precise circumstances of what has happened, that could amount to blackmail and deception, as well as offences under the Solicitors Act 1974 and Legal Services Act 2007.”
The Law Society has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate whether the following offences have been committed:
- Obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception and blackmail.
- Offences under section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974.
- Offences under section 17(1)(a) of the Legal Services Act 2007.
The title ‘solicitor’ is covered by section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974, as well as misuse of ‘any description implying that [a person] is qualified or recognised by law as qualified to act as a solicitor’.
Section 17(1)(a) prohibits any person, who is not entitled under the Legal Services Act to carry on activities reserved for qualified lawyers, from wilfully pretending that they are so entitled. Reserved activities include the issuance of court process on behalf of another person.
In a letter to the Financial Conduct Authority, Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson has asked that the FCA provides:
- Further information about Wonga’s activities, including copies of the letters from non-existent law firms which they sent.
- Copies of the FCA’s investigation files.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has been asked by the Law Society to investigate whether there is a case under section 21 of the Solicitors Act 1974 or section 17(1)(a) of the Legal Services Act 2007, with a view to prosecution if the investigation discloses sufficient evidence.