Wednesday 26 October 2016

Call for Central Bank probe after Provident sacks 'whistleblowers'

Published 17/06/2015 | 02:30

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty gave information to the Central Bank
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty gave information to the Central Bank

Five 'whistleblowers' who reported concerns to the Central Bank about leading moneylending firm Provident have been sacked, it was claimed in the Dáil.

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It was also alleged that the five, who were self-employed collection agents operating in Donegal, gave detailed information to the regulator on the illegal topping-up of moneylender loans provided by Provident, the Irish Independent has learned.

Under the Consumer Credit Act 1995 it is illegal to top-up an existing moneylending loan before an existing one has been paid off.

This does not apply to credit union or bank loans, but is in place for moneylenders to stop people getting into a cycle of moneylender debt.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty had given information supplied by the five individuals to the enforcement section of the Central Bank, he told the Dáil.

Mr Doherty told finance minster Michael Noonan in the Dáil recently he and colleague Pádraig Mac Lochlainn had sent a letter to the Central Bank.

"In the letter, we summarised how, in December 2014, after receiving information from whistleblowers via us, the Central Bank fined Provident Personal Credit €105,000 'in respect of consumer protection failure relating to money- lending loans," he said.

Mr Doherty said Provident had "terminated the contracts of all five of the whistleblowers who sent the information to me and thence to the Central Bank".

He had presented a large file on the illegal topping-up of moneylender loans in Letterkenny to the regulators.

Mr Noonan said the Central Bank Act 2013 and the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 ensure staff in financial services companies can report issues to the Central Bank without fear of retribution.

Mr Noonan referred the sacked agents to the Central Bank and advised them to seek legal advice.

Since the Central Bank fine, Provident has lost a case taken by a Donegal couple who had Provident loans topped-up before they finished paying their original loans.

The ombudsman ruled that they get the loans written off and receive compensation, with this case now opening up the chance for around 100,000 people with topped-up moneylender loans to get similar redress.

One of the sacked agents spoken to by this newspaper said the five collection agents had their contracts terminated over a series of months up to the end of last year.

They are due to meet the Central Bank at the end of this month, he said.

Asked if it had acted illegally in sacking the agents, a spokesman for Provident said: "Provident has not acted illegally in terminating the contracts with the company of the people mentioned."

Mr Doherty called on the Central Bank to investigate what has happened to the Provident employees in Donegal.

Asked for a comment, the Central Bank said it was not in a position to discuss individual firms or investigations.

There are 38 licensed moneylenders, with 360,000 customers, according to research done in 2013.

Moneylenders are legally allowed to charge interest rates as high as 187pc, when the rate is expressed in annualised terms. Adding in the home collection fee, takes the rate to 288pc.

Irish Independent

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