pound_coins_stackedup_resizedWonga, the UK’s largest payday loan company, has been ordered to pay £2.6m in compensation, after sending letters from non-existent law firms to customers in arrears.

The letters threatened legal action, but the law firms were false. In some cases Wonga added fees for the letters to customers’ accounts, according to the BBC.

The customers affected (45,000 of them) will each receive £50 for distress (a piddling amount, surely?) plus any legal fees they have encountered. The regulator in this case is the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA); they cannot however fine Wonga because the offences happened before they started regulating payday loans companies.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said: “It is right the FCA is taking a tougher line on irresponsible lending and it does not get much more irresponsible than this.

“It is a shocking new low for the payday industry that is already dogged by bad practice and Wonga deserves to have the book thrown at it.”

Tougher line? £50 each? I imagine the people at Wonga are laughing.

Wonga is not the only lender to do this. Back in my debt-crisis days, I received a letter from a non-existent firm of solicitors. I was only alerted to the fact when I noticed that the initials of the firm were identical to those of the bank that was chasing me for the debt. It’s sharp practice and could cause considerable distress, because most people have a healthy respect for the law. And that’s how it should be. So to use that fact in this way is pretty despicable. £50 each, eh?

There is an existing Code of Practice from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) regarding harassment of debtors, although it is often ignored. I’ve blogged about it more than once; for details click HERE.



For the BBC News item, click HERE.

For the OFT Code of Practice regarding harassment of debtors, click HERE.




Good old Ryanair! If that particular budget airline didn’t exist, bloggers and stand-up comics would have to invent it. Those guys provide rich pickings, mostly for the ludicrous way they boost their low “headline prices” through add-ons. It’s not the fact of the add-ons (sorry, I nearly called them surcharges, which would have been a mistake, as you’ll learn if you read on); because we are not stupid enough to think we really can be flown to Malaga for 50 pence; or even the amount. It’s the way they are added right at the end of the purchase process; the old inertia strategy.

The end of the purchase is the point when you have spent so long wading through their booking process that you have almost lost the will to live; and then you feel what the hell, you must have a holiday at any price.

Ryanair boss orders a pint

The likeable Scottish comedian Fred MacAulay has a great routine  in which he says he’d like to become a barman in Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s local pub: “Pint of Guinness, Michael? That’ll be £1.49. Yes, I know, it seems cheap, doesn’t it? But did you want it in a glass? That’ll be another punt. Did you want a head on it? That’ll be another punt. So you think that’s £3.49? Ah, but did you book it online?”

(I’ve heard other versions of this story, by the way, but it’s the way Fred tells ’em)

OK, I know, they use euros in Ireland nowadays, not punts, but I think the story sounds better this way. And, as they used to say at the News of the World, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Ryanair contempt

Not just their policies, but also their public pronouncements, show Ryanair’s total contempt for their customers, for the media and for consumer watchdogs.

The title of this post is borrowed from an article by Rebecca Rutt in the August edition of “Moneywise”. Her title was “An end to ‘Paying for Paying’ “ and she talks of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) having agreed in July to stop travel companies charging people who pay by debit card. Charging for the use of a credit card is common enough; but to charge for using a debit card might prompt one or both of the Mitchell boys (from East Enders, if you need to know) to ask: “You’re ‘avin’ a larf, ain’t yer?”

A very recent article (9 August) in the Guardian says that the European Commission has decided to investigate this area. Well, maybe.

Ryanair’s sense of humour

And of course “avin a larf” is what Ryanair likes to do; at the expense of its customers and everyone else. Earlier this year, the consumer magazine “Which” lodged a “super-complaint” about this card charge issue but they made the cardinal error of using the word “surcharge”. Here’s the response of Ryanair’s “spokesperson” Stephen McNamara: “Before making super-duper complaints the clueless clowns at ‘Which, Who or What’ magazine should conduct some basic research. Ryanair doesn’t levy any credit or debit card payment ‘surcharges’ “

Of course he’s right … and so are the people at Which. Ryanair calls them administration fees. And if the OFT, or the EU, ever manages to pass any legislation outlawing them (don’t hold your breath and I don’t think it’d be worthwhile), why, they’ll just call them something else.

BA cheaper than Ryanair?

Last week I booked a flight within Europe. So I checked out all this stuff in detail, to the point where I too almost lost the will to live. Ryanair and BA were two of the options, so I went right through the details and terms and conditions. Of course the Brisith Airways headline fare was double Ryanair’s but with BA there were no surcharges, admin fees, supplements etc. When those were added on, Ryanair’s total fare was higher than BA’s.

Guess which airline I booked with … despite my Irish heritage? And do you imagine I’ll get better service when I get on board the BA, compared with the take-it-or-leave it attitude of Ryanair? No prizes for guessing.


Last night, on BBC2’s excellent “Newsnight Review” I saw a live performance of a brilliant song I’d heard before, by Fascinating Aida. That reminded me that they had already said it all about this subject with this song. Here it is, with subtitles in case you might have difficulty with the Irish accents. It’s a must-watch! Click here


Checked baggage fees: Yes, dear reader, as I said above, I nearly booked a Ryanair flight last week. After wading through the 12 different categories of baggage fees, I found that the average cost was  about £30 per bag per flight. So, for example, as a couple with just one bag each we’d have paid an extra £120 for the round trip.

Administration Fee (‘paying for paying’): Ryanair’s website says:  “This fee is charged per passenger/ per one way flight and relates to the costs associated with Ryanair’s booking system. No administration fee applies to bookings paid for by MasterCard Prepaid Debit Card.”

Well that’s all right then; it’s not a surcharge, it’s a fee. When they say “costs associated with ….” at least they don’t make the unjustified claim that their internal costs are anything like the £6 they charge. “Doesn’t seem like much, does it Michael?” … till you find it’s per passenger per one-way flight, even if you make one card transaction for two or more people, round-trip. Sneaky? underhand? I’d say contemptuous.

Yes, I know, some rail booking sites also charge fees for using credit cards (common enough) and debit cards; but in my experience they are smller and they are per transaction, which is more logical.

I was in business long enough to know the old saying “cost is a matter of fact; price is a matter of policy.” So Ryanair charge a greatly inflated “admin fee” because they want to and because they can.

Also from Ryanair’s site:

4.2.2 Taxes, fees and charges imposed on air travel are constantly changing and can be imposed after the date that your reservation has been made. If any such tax, fee or charge is introduced or increased after your reservation has been made you will be obliged to pay it (or any increase) prior to departure. Similarly, if any such tax, fee or charge is abolished or reduced such that it no longer applies to you, or a lesser amount is due, you will be entitled to claim a refund of the difference from us.

(Note: “you will be entitled to claim” …. that’s if you happen to find out before the time limit we specify. Could we at Ryanair credit your card account automatically, if this happens? In your dreams, sunshine.)

The Guardian‘s article on EU investigation: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/aug/08/airline-cheap-ticket-offers-investigated?INTCMP=SRCH

Moneywise‘s article “Paying for Paying”: http://www.moneywise.co.uk/news-views/blogs/rebecca-rutt/2011-06-30/the-end-to-paying-paying

… and finally: that song again!