Wonga TV ad ban was right, say bishops: £33.49 APR is 'huge'

Bishops in England and Wales have praised an Advertising Standards Authority ban on a TV advert for the payday loan company Wonga.com.

In their ruling the ASA said the advert, which had triggered 31 complaints, claimed that the 5,853% representative APR was "irrelevant" if people were taking out a short-term loan.

The puppets in the advert said: "Right, we're going to explain the costs of a Wonga short-term loan.

"Some people think they will pay thousands of per cent of interest. They won't of course - that's just the way annual rates are calculated. Say you borrowed £150 for 18 days, it would cost you £33.49."

According to the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, the Right Reverend John Davies, this makes the loan sound much more benign than it is.

He said: "The way in which the loan was presented in the ad doesn't seem initially particularly frightening, but interest of £33.49 on a loan of £150 for just 18 days is actually pretty high and translated into an APR it's huge.

"The advert was properly banned as it possibly lulls a vulnerable individual into thinking that it's not too bad and then borrowing without really thinking."

Last weekend, Bishop Davies spoke at a Baptist Church in Swansea in support of the Fair Credit initiative. He believes payday lenders are pedalling something dangerous.

"Borrowing at any price, sometimes seen as a quick and easy way out of poverty leaves people vulnerable, sometimes desperate and open to being taken advantage of by others," he said.

"Preying upon the vulnerable, often driving them into even deeper debt, is thoroughly un-Christian, deplorable and to be discouraged by whatever legal means are available. Generosity in lending, and at rates of interest which are fair to both lender and borrower is commendable and is to be encouraged."

The Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Reverend Alan Wilson, also supports the ban.

"This ruling is welcome, but there is no room for complacency. The ASA's decision encourages clearer and more honest information from lenders," he said.

Bishop Wilson did have some praise for Wonga, though, when compared to other lending organisations.

"I am shocked that Wonga is actually clearer about actual upfront costs to its customers than traditional providers with their complex and arcane overdraft charges, and practices that hook people into ruinous cycles of credit card debt," he said. 

Bishop Wilson previously joined the Bishops of Dorchester and Oxford in celebrating International Credit Union week in October by investing in the Oxford Credit Union.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, said at the time: "Credit unions are a positive and ethical alternative to payday lenders.

"I hope more people will turn to them for short-term loans rather than end up in a debilitating cycle of debt by borrowing from loan sharks.

"I would urge churches and Christians to invest in, to volunteer for and help publicise their credit union."

Wonga defended their advertisement, insisting that it was unreasonable to think the advert was confusing.  It argued that all the on-screen information followed industry regulations and that it was only there to clarify the costs of a loan.

However, in its ruling, the ASA said: "Whilst we acknowledged that viewers taking out and repaying the loan within the stated time period would not repay 5853% of the loan, we were nevertheless concerned that viewers would be left without a clear understanding of how the information in the on-screen text could be applied to a Wonga loan, given the ad's assertion that the representative APR was not indicative of the cost of the loan.

"We considered that, though it attempted to clarify the costs associated with a Wonga loan, the ad created confusion as to the rates that would apply. On that basis, we concluded that the ad was misleading."

More News in Society