Following ASIC action, the Federal Court has fined payday lenders a total of $730,000 for breaching consumer credit laws by engaging in credit activities without holding an Australian credit licence.
The companies, Fast Access Finance Pty Ltd, Fast Access Finance (Beenleigh) Pty Ltd and Fast Access Finance (Burleigh Heads) Pty Ltd (the FAF Companies) operated under a business model where consumers seeking small value loans (of amounts generally ranging from $500 to $2,000) were required to sign documents which purported to be for the purchase and sale of diamonds in order to obtain a loan.
Rather, the diamond purchase and sale contracts were designed to camouflage what, in reality, were loan transactions to which the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 applied.
The Court handed down today’s penalty following its decision on 30 September 2015 that the arrangements for the sale of diamonds ‘comprised a pretence or sham, brought into existence as a mere piece of machinery, to conceal the true nature of the transaction, which was the provision of credit. Neither side intended that the Sales Agreement should create the relationship of vendor and purchaser….’
The Court also found that that the FAF Companies ‘intended to conceal the true nature of the transaction from those responsible for enforcing the interest cap’.
In handing down the penalty, the Federal Court stated that ‘Although the excessive interest paid by each customer may not have been large in absolute terms and by some standards, it was no doubt substantial for the customer in question. Such customers have little chance of recovering anything from any of the respondents. The most heinous aspect of the case is the deliberate and pre-meditated exploitation of these vulnerable people.’
In determining the appropriate penalties, the court took into account that:
Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said, ‘ASIC will continue to crack down on lenders who use avoidance models in an attempt to deprive consumers of these important protections.’