A MOTHER-of-three who spent 18 years locked into a spiral of debt with BrightHouse claims that the rent-to-buy company “bullied” her.
Yesterday, the weekly payment store came under fire after the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ordered it to pay back £14.8 million to customers who had been treated unfairly by the store.
Laura Taylor, 38, from Northamptonshire, took out her first agreement with BrightHouse in 1996 when she was 18 and a hairdressing student at college.
Since then, she took out around 26 agreements with the loan company which she paid off over almost two decades.
Laura, whose agreed payment day was a Saturday, told the Sun Online of her horror of being “bullied and intimidated” on her own front door step by staff from the loan store.
“Two men would turn up on my front door on a Saturday, hours before the payment was due,” she said. “The payment wasn’t even late and they would be banging on my door making sure that I was going to go to the store to pay.
“At the time I had two young children in the house and I had to hide them in the living room so they wouldn’t see.
“This was back before they accepted payments over the phone, so even if I had a sick child, I had to drag them on the bus to the store to make sure that I paid on time.
“There were times when I was late paying on the Saturday and they would come knocking at my door on the Monday,” Laura recalls.
“I don’t understand why they couldn’t just call me to remind me first, before coming to my house. I’d be so scared of opening the door that I’d hide until they went away.”
Laura called BrightHouse’s customer services to confirm what agreements she’d taken out but they would only give details on the payments she had signed up to since 2011.
She’s now a special needs teacher and paid off all of her debts to BrightHouse in 2015.
Over the 18 years, she believes she has paid approximately £31,587 to BrightHouse for goods which cost around £17,509.
BrightHouse has been accused of charging up to 70 per cent interest on items, meaning that hard-up households are paying as much as five times the normal price of home furnishings.
On top of the repayments, BrightHouse offers insurance policies like damage liability cover for customers who don’t have home cover, as well as charging extra for delivery and installation.
Laura came to rely on the rent-to-own company the most when she first split from her husband.
As a single mum with two young children, she found that it was the only place she could turn for help to afford furnishings for her house.
“I feel like they prey on the most vulnerable. They were very pally-pally when you took out an agreement and you could be in and out in 20 minutes,” Laura added.
“I actually feel sick when I think of the profit they have made from me.”
She became so scared of being chased for payment that she fell behind on her council tax, instead giving the money to BrightHouse in the hope that she wouldn’t get a visit to her house.
What are your rights if debt collectors demand money on your doorstep?
CREDITORS – people who you owe money to – are allowed to call at your home but only if it’s at a reasonable time of day. Know your rights if you feel that you’re being harassed by creditors, according to Citizens Advice.
Telephoning you, sending you reminders and calling at your home are all legal things to do by debt collectors.
But if they are contacting you several times a day, they threaten you physically or verbally, or pursuing you on social media then according to Citizens Advice, this is classed as harassment.
If you do feel like you’re being harassed by a debt collector you can complain to your creditor and to a professional body like the Citizens Advice Consumer Service or the Financial Conduct Authority.
You should collect evidence before you make the complaint, like recording the number of visits and calls made and at what time.
You should also keep a record of all the letters and documents you have received and gather witness statements from neighbours and other people you live with.
On their website, BrightHouse state that “lending responsibly” is key to their service and that the “last thing [they] want is for customers to fall into a spiral of debt.”
But according to Laura, it was easy to take out a loan agreement with them as all you needed was to show proof that you had a regular income and they didn’t take into account your outgoings.
“They made me feel that I had not choice but to pay them, even if I couldn’t afford to,” she said.
“Every time they came to my house, I really believed that they could take away my things with their van.”
A spokesperson for BrightHouse said: “BrightHouse takes all customer concerns extremely seriously.
“We are surprised that after many years as a customer, this is the first time that BrightHouse has been formally made aware of Ms Taylor’s concerns. We would be happy to discuss them with her personally.”
DOGHOUSE When will BrightHouse contact me if I’m due compensation, how can I check if I’m owed a refund and how many customers are affected?
Yesterday, BrightHouse was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of customers back a total of £14.8million in compensation after the City watchdog found they had been treating them unfairly.
In total, it must pay back 249,000 customers as a result of the investigation by the FCA.
They include customers who cancelled orders during the cooling-off period but did not get a refund for payments which were made.
As well as those who could not afford to make payments and returned the products.