Gosport couple Mandy Finlayson and husband Fraser thought they were onto a good thing when they were called out of the blue by PPI claims company Litchfield Price, offering to recover hundreds of pounds of mis-sold insurance premiums.
They were one of the many thousands of people who were flogged what turned out to be worthless repayment protection insurance when they took out loans, credit cards, store accounts, overdrafts or car finance.
But their expectation turned to anger when they discovered they’d just been strung along for 16 months with nothing to show for it.
The Swansea-based company offered to process their PPI claims for a £495 upfront fee, a simple procedure that anyone can do themselves for free.
Mandy, a 49-year-old garment distributor, said she was caught off guard when the firm rang her out of the blue and dazzled her with a convincing sales pitch.
She discussed it with Fraser, 51, and they decided to go for it.
There was no mention of an upfront fee at the time, but when the company’s initial paperwork promptly arrived at their Gosport home they paid up without a second thought.
Mandy explained: ‘I’d already sent loads of letters off about PPI and got absolutely nowhere with it, so they rang at just the right time.
‘The firm first wrote to us on July 8, 2015, saying they were committed to helping us, and we started to get random letters saying we needed to sign this and that, so we really believed they were investigating.’
Then more forms arrived from the firm, including a ‘claims pack,’ to complete together with a page of small print terms and conditions. Later ‘engagement’ papers turned up accompanied by two further pages of impressive looking small print.
On the July 13, an email appeared to say the status of their claim had changed but not to worry as the company would take care of everything. Reassured, they sat back and waited for the promised claim money to arrive.
Mandy said: ‘Then it went quiet until round about Christmas, when another letter arrived to say they were trying to do their bit.
‘When we heard nothing more we started ringing them, and that’s when alarm bells sounded because we couldn’t always get through.
‘It just rang and rang until it went dead. Not even an answering machine – nothing.
‘Then I sent two emails to say I was getting a bit concerned with the lack of correspondence and couldn’t contact them, and was thinking of involving my solicitor, but didn’t get anything back from that either.’
Not sure what to do, Mandy turned up at the Streetwise Gosport consumer surgery to ask for help and advice.
Our investigation revealed that Litchfield Price was compulsorily struck off and dissolved by Companies House registrars last June, leaving the internet awash with hundreds of livid complainants who had each paid almost £500 for a service that didn’t materialise.
Some of the firm’s clients had been kept waiting for over two years, and left none the wiser as to whether they’d any valid claims processed or outstanding.
We explained that PPI claims had become a bit of a money-spinner for traders who’d spotted they were onto a winner and could make a fast buck out of upfront processing charges.
But people should be made aware that making a claim was a DIY doddle. The only expertise necessary was the ability to fill in a simple application form.
However, as claims processing companies are for all intents and purposes largely unregulated, there is nowhere to turn if things go wrong.
Fortunately, the couple had paid the Litchfield Price fee by credit card, so we were able to advise them to put in a claim with their bank for refund under the 1974 Consumer Credit Act.
A philosophical Mandy said that once Streetwise revealed the firm had gone out of business she was absolutely gutted.
She warned: ‘I believe that if people come to you to do this PPI the chances are it is going to be a scam. There’s other ways and means of getting the money back genuinely through the banks and various forms online.
‘I’d hate it if other people were going to get caught out like this. I can’t shout it loud enough, don’t ever respond to a phone call. The chances are you’re just a number on a list and it’ll be a scam.’
Streetwise is not implying there aren’t genuine redress outfits that can help people to process their PPI claims.
But James Jones, head of consumer affairs at credit reference agency Experian echoed Mandy’s warning.
‘There has been a proliferation of firms that will help you claim back mis-sold PPI for a fee,’ he said.
‘And it’s an area targeted by scammers too – so people should be very careful.
‘It’s actually very easy to make a claim yourself. Check out the free reclaiming templates on popular websites such as moneysavingexpert.com.
‘If you’ve forgotten which credit products you’ve had in the past, remember that your credit report lists any credit you’ve used in the past six years. You can order a copy from each of the three credit reference agencies (Experian, Callcredit and Equifax) for £2 a time.’