Between 22 December 2013 and 6 May 2015, PhonepayPlus received 119 complaints from consumers in relation to a fixed line loan brokerage service (the “Service”) operated by Cash Finance Direct (Holdings) Limited (registered company no: 04106575) (the “Level 2 provider”). The Service was operated on Vodafone Group plc’s fixed line ranges: 0906 191 0800-0899, 0906 193 1090-1279, 0906 199 7800-7999 and 0906 400 1800-1999. Vodafone Group plc was the Service Network operator. Consumers engaging with the Service made up to two premium rate calls for the purposes of applying and finding out if they were eligible for a loan. The Service was promoted by SMS marketing, third party lead generation and online re-directs.
The Level 2 provider commenced operation of the Service on or shortly after the time of its registration with PhonepayPlus on 31 July 2013, however the Executive was aware that the Service was previously operated by a separate company since around 1994. The Executive was also aware that the Level 2 provider had ceased trading and that liquidators had been appointed on 10 April 2015.
Concerns regarding the Service were raised following the ongoing receipt of complaints which suggested that undue delay may be an issue. Complainants also routinely stated that they felt that calls were lengthy and drawn out, that they received misleading promotions and/or that when they applied for refunds they were not received.
The Executive raised the following potential breaches of the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (12th Edition) (the “Code”):
- Rule 2.3.2 – Misleading
- Rule 2.3.4 – Undue delay
- Rule 2.6.4 – Complaint handling - Provision of refunds
- Rule 2.3.1 – Fair and equitable treatment
The Tribunal upheld all the breaches of the Code raised. The Level 2 provider’s revenue in relation the Service was Band 1 (£1,000,000+). The Tribunal considered the case to be serious and imposed a fine of £100,000 and a requirement that the Level 2 provider must refund all consumers who claim a refund, for the full amount spent by them on the Service, within 28 days of their claim, save where there is good cause to believe that such claims are not valid, and provide evidence to PhonepayPlus that such refunds have been made.
Administrative charge recommendation: 100%