Business

Amigo: Sub-prime lender puts itself up for sale

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The dominant operator in the UK's guarantor loan market has put itself up for sale.

Amigo lends money to people with a poor credit rating, but who can offer family and friends as a back-up to guarantee any missed repayments.

The company controls at least 80% of the UK market but has faced scrutiny from regulators.

Numerous complaints have also been submitted by people who feel they should never have been given a loan.

The sub-prime lending sector as a whole has faced a blizzard of complaints from customers who believe they were approved for loans which they could never afford to repay.

This has led to the demise of some of the biggest names in the sector, such as Wonga.

What does Amigo do?

Amigo is different to payday lending as it requires more security from borrowers, through the demand for a guarantor.

The loans involve friends and relatives being asked to pay off the debt, if the original borrower fails to do so.

Charities, such as Citizens Advice, spoke out against this brand of lending, claiming that many such guarantors are unaware they are signing up for large debts.

Last year, the City watchdog - the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued warnings to the guarantor-lending industry, saying they must make the risks clearer to those involved.

Why are people making claims?

As with much of the sector, Amigo faces claims from previous and current borrowers, as well as guarantors, who say insufficient checks were made to ensure repayments could be made.

Complaints which are upheld can result in interest being cancelled, or guarantors being released from their part in the loan agreement.

Debt adviser Sara Williams, who writes the Debt Camel blog, said she believed Amigo was getting a lot more complaints and was slow to respond in many cases.

A response should be provided within eight weeks, after which customers can go to the Financial Ombudsman Service, but some complainants have been waiting for more than 12 weeks.

In an update to the stock market, the company said it continued to face a "challenging operating environment".

"While Amigo remains confident in the robustness of its approach to lending decisions, we are concerned that there may be increased pressure on our business and a continual evolution in the approach of the Financial Ombudsman Service," it said.

"We continually look to enhance our processes and are monitoring developments with a view to assessing the long-term impact on the company."

When it last reported results in November, the company said that a backlog of complaints with the ombudsman was unwinding and it expected "to revert to more normalised, lower uphold rates and reduced average redress".

What is happening now?

Bournemouth-based Amigo said that Richmond Group, which owns a 60.6% stake in the business, has said it would be a "willing seller" of Amigo, either whole or of separate parts of the business.

No approaches to buy the business have been made yet and shareholders have been advised that there is no certainty of offers or a sale.

It is also conducting a strategic review and has hired RBC Capital Markets to lead the review and sale process.

Amigo said its loan book growth and missed repayments had been in line with expectations for the past nine months.

However, it added that the launch of the review could affect future lending volumes as the business.

Last month, Hamish Paton stepped down as chief executive after just five months, and Richmond Group chief James Benamor returned to the business as a non-executive director.

Amigo floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2018 with market capitalisation of £1.3bn, but it is now valued at around £323m.

Shares fell sharply in early trading on Monday, but recovered some of that ground during the morning.

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