Administrators of collapsed hire-purchase company BrightHouse, which specializes in loans for big-ticket items such as fridges and sofas, have warned they will not have enough money to compensate thousands of customers who have found themselves with unaffordable debts.
The latest report from accountants Grant Thornton, who handle administration, shows a plan to set aside £600,000 for payments to customers who may have been mis-sold by BrightHouse to expensive loans has been scrapped.
During this time, a number of creditors received large sums. These include supply chain finance firm Greensill, which is itself in administration after collapsing last year. Greensill – or his creditors – were awarded almost £31million.
The process will raise new questions about how UK insolvency rules prioritize payments from investors and lenders over customers.
Prior to filing for bankruptcy in 2020, BrightHouse offered high-interest rent-to-own contracts to customers who would otherwise struggle to afford the upfront costs of household items such as refrigerators, ovens, televisions and sofas. It charged interest of up to 69.9% which, in addition to service and insurance charges, could mean customers were paying two to three times the cost of the item on the high street. Some customers were never able to possess the goods if they were in arrears.
BrightHouse’s clients were generally from low-income households receiving state benefits. The move means some of the UK’s most vulnerable consumers could miss out on crucial funds, just as the cost of living crisis squeezes finances.
Grant Thornton initially set aside up to £600,000 to deal with more than 11,000 affordability inquiries from customers who fear they have been mis-sold. But its latest report, published at the end of April, reveals that the administrators plan to ask the court for permission to remove the compensation pot after deciding that the cost would be too high.
“Given the likely volume and complexity of customer affordability claims … administrators expect the cost associated with assessing these claims will far exceed the funds available for distribution,” the report said. .
“Based on the foregoing, the administrators are seeking to file an application with the court in the coming period to seek the removal of the barred portion,” he added.
Under initial plans, customers should have received fee and interest refunds, plus an additional 8% interest on that amount dating back to the start of their loan.
Meanwhile, administrators confirmed they had hired a debt collection agency to “enhance” customer reimbursements and “maximize” payments to creditors. Among those creditors is Greensill Capital, whose collapse last year sparked a wave of political scandals.
Greensill, which specialized in offering business invoice advances for a fee, made loans to BrightHouse in 2018. As a lender, Greensill was considered a secured creditor, which put it at the top of queue for reimbursement when his client, BrightHouse, went screw up. The trustees’ report confirmed Greensill had been repaid in full, receiving a total of £30.86m in 2020 – a year before he collapsed into administration.
Sara Williams, debt counselor and author of the blog Debt Camel, said: “The hundreds of thousands of customers who should have been repaid for unaffordable loans will receive nothing. The money customers were pressured into paying during the administration goes entirely to secured creditors.
She added: “The government and the insolvency service need to change that. Customers are the innocent victims here and they should come first. Trustees should not seek to collect debts without first considering whether the loan was mis-sold.
The problem is particularly acute for customers of rent-to-own businesses, who are typically young people, women or single parents, living in rented accommodation.
Customers have encountered similar issues when dealing with collapsed payday lenders such as Wonga. Hundreds of thousands of its former borrowers who were mis-sold by the company were told they would only receive 4.3p for every pound owed in compensation.
A spokesman for the directors of Grant Thornton, which is also managing Greensill’s UK liquidation, said they were fulfilling their obligations under UK insolvency rules and had distributed BrightHouse’s assets “as required by the legislation”.
The spokesperson said: “While Greensill Capital (UK) Ltd was previously a secured creditor of BrightHouse, all obligations owed to it in connection with the administration of BrightHouse have been paid to it as required by law and before that it does not go into administration itself. We have no further comment beyond the content of the documents filed by the directors regarding the two matters.”
A spokesperson for the Insolvency Service said: “The insolvency framework is designed to ensure that creditors of an insolvent business receive as much of their money as possible, and it is the duty of insolvency practitioners to take into account the interests of all creditors in the performance of their work.”