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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:34 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Once again, X-Ray has been looking at the activities of one of the UK's biggest sub-prime companies Yes Loans.

The BBC has had more than a thousand complaints about the Cwmbran based company over the years - but now there are questions about why it's being allowed to continue operating.

Yes Loans is a credit broker. For a fee, currently £69.50, it tries to find companies willing to lend to customers who make contact over the telephone or online.

Many of these customers are on low income, self-employed, have debt problems and can have county court judgements. Often they would have little hope of getting a loan on the high street.

But not all customers understand that Yes Loans, in spite of its name, does not loan money. It will take its fee straight away, regardless of whether or not a loan is found for the customer.

Since 2006 X-Ray has received over 200 complaints about Yes Loans and we've featured the company on two previous occasions.

Many of these people feel they've been misled by sales patter and think they are getting a loan from Yes Loans - when, in fact, they've simply been accepted as a client and may not get a loan at all.

If they are offered a loan it will be with another company, often at a very high interest rate. And we're not alone in investigating Yes Loans, BBC Radio 4 has looked into it as well, as journalist Samantha Washington explains.

"The thing that kept coming to the fore was that customers who had applied for a loan and either decided not to proceed because they had seen the APR and felt that it was really too high for them or no loan was ever found for them.

"They applied for a refund and they were finding it extremely difficult to get their money back."

Yes Loans told us complaints are less than one in every 10,000 loan applications, though it takes those few very seriously.

But not all customers would agree. Geraint Meredith works as a nursing supporting mentally ill patients. His salary is very low and he has to support his partner and two sons.

He contacted Yes Loans for a £500 loan in December last year to help with Christmas expenses and some holiday spending money.

He claims he was accepted for a loan, was not told there would be a fee and was not told Yes Loans was a credit broker. The fee, then £59.50, was taken from his bank account pushing his overdraft over its limit.

"Money was taken out of my bank account without my knowing and that put me into a nasty situation with my bank. Every time I telephoned them since I have been put on hold for over an hour, passed from person to person, never getting anywhere with them."

Five months on - despite writing and phoning, he's still not had a refund. And Yes Loans was not able to find him a suitable loan.

Yes Loans told us Geraint's version of events was not correct. He had been told the company was a credit broker and a fee would be taken.

He had not asked for a refund, but had complained about bank charges incurred when the fee was taken. Yes Loans says if Geraint can prove that's the case, it will refund those charges.

Lucy Green also paid Yes Loans £59.50. She needed a loan to pay for a deposit on a rented flat. The loan never materialised. The 23-year-old pestered Yes Loans for seven months until her money was paid back.

"I was not going to let it drop, I was not going to let it drop because there are people out there who will sit down and think oh well, I didn't get the loan, I won't bother doing anything or would give up when they got no response."

Yes Loans once again disputed Lucy's version of events. But they did give her a refund, without deducting a £5 administration fee, and the company has now changed its terms and conditions over refunds.

Samantha believes that Yes Loans failiure to refund these fees could be a breach of the Consumer Credit Act, "Section 155 of that makes it very clear that it would be unfair practice for a company to not refund customers promptly," she said.

But no one seems clear on what "promptly" means.

Responsibility for policing the Consumer Credit Act lies with the Government, through the Office of Fair Trading. It must make sure companies toe the line.

To do this, companies like Yes Loans have to have a consumer credit licence. Yes Loans' licence expired in June of last year - so how is it that this company can continue to trade?

Under OFT rules, as long as Yes Loans applied to renew its licence on time, the expired licence remains valid until a decision is made on whether or not that licence can be renewed. So far this process has taken 11 months.

This delay has angered Conservative MP, John Penrose, who has been asking questions about it in Parliament. He's shadow consumer affairs minister, and thinks the OFT is taking far too long to make a decision.

"Now at some point you have to call time and say this is never going to be fixed or you have got to say that they have reached the necessary standard and they can trade like any other company."

Under its terms and conditions, Yes Loans makes it clear that it can pass customers on to other companies. Some of these companies are linked to Yes Loans, for example, debt management company Money Worries Ltd.

Others are not. Lucy Green found this out to her cost. When she rang to ask for a loan from Yes Loans, she also found herself buying health insurance.

"They passed me on through to AXA and the gentleman on the telephone was explaining to me about healthcare and cover but I had all of that with my job at the time so I was not interested."

Lucy found £9.62 had been taken out of her bank account by AXA for health insurance. Lucy insists she did not agree to this insurance cover, though Yes Loans and AXA both say she did.

However, we've found out that Lucy was actually passed by telephone from Yes Loans to someone working for Blue Sky Personal Finance.

The latter had been contracted by AXA to handle its calls. Blue Sky is linked to Yes Loans, it shares some directors, has the same registered address in Bridgend and operates out of the same call centre in Cwmbran.

When Lucy complained to AXA, her money was refunded within days. AXA told us it ended its relationship with Yes Loans and Blue Sky in March for commercial reasons.

Commercially Yes Loans' business accounts, held at Companies House, are healthy. Samantha, from Radio 4 has been looking at them in detail:

"In the year 2006 to 7 turnover practically doubled to £22 milllion so the company is doing very nicely indeed. And it also showed that shareholder funds available - to Mr Chorlton who owns 100% of the shares - as being about £5 million, so he is also doing rather nicely."

The shareholder is Keith Chorlton - a man with a colourful business history. In 2000 he was banned from being a company director for ten years after his online dating agency, Close Encounters of the Best Kind plc, collapsed.

During an investigation it was found that Keith had transferred funds out of the failing business to himself when he knew the business was insolvent.

Last year, he popped up at Cardiff County Court asking the judge for an exemption which, if granted, would allow him to be a director of Yes Loans and Blue Sky Personal Finance.

Keith told the judge he'd learned the error of his ways. The judge granted the exemption. MP John Penrose is concerned that, on the day of that court hearing, no one from the OFT or the Government was there to make representations to the judge.

"The Government could and should have turned up in court on the day and either said "yes we think that is all right" or "no, we don't".

If it's worthwhile going through all of that palaver of disqualifying in the first place then it is not too much to ask that they check that the sentence is being carried out."

When we filmed outside Yes Loans call centre in Cwmbran, the whole workforce emerged to talk to us. Stephen Jones told us they were angry about the recent publicity.

"These people are all good people and these good people are here to do a service for people who are out there and they do a tremendous job," he said.

But others are still concerned including John Penrose.

"And the worry is, not just this particular company, it is that it throws up potentially bigger, wider questions about the way we deal with organisations lending to some of the most vulnerable and cash-strapped people in our society.

Yes Loans was keen to point out to us that the delay in getting its consumer credit licence renewed was due to the OFT managing a new IT system.

The OFT told X-Ray that it had undertaken a "substantial investigation" with the company and was working with it to address a number of issues.

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