Church of England ‘embarrassed’ over Wonga tie

THE money-making arm of the Church of England said it is doing “all it can” to avoid unethical investment after severing ties with payday lender Wonga.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was "absolutely delighted" the church cut ties with Wonga. Picture: PA
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was "absolutely delighted" the church cut ties with Wonga. Picture: PA

Andrew Brown, secretary to the Church Commissioners for England, admitted it had been left embarrassed when last year it emerged money was indirectly invested in Britain’s biggest payday loan company through pooled funds.

He said it has taken 12 months to ensure it could pull out from its exposure to Wonga via its capital venture portfolio at “cost price”.

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“Frankly, we were embarrassed 12 months ago, and so we’ve been working over that period to extract that business from the pooled fund,” he said.

“It takes time to do that. It’s a bit like Jesus’ parable in Matthew; it takes time to take out the weeds while leaving the wheat in place.”

He said changes to policies and processes regarding their portfolio would ensure the Church Commissioners could “spread its risk while taking in ethical concerns”.

“We’re doing all we can to make sure this wouldn’t happen again, and that’s important to make clear,” he added.

News of the connection with Wonga proved particularly embarrassing for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had spoken out against the payday lending industry, insisting he wanted to “compete” them out of business.

He said he has been applying pressure to the Church Commissioners to cut all links with Wonga.

He told the Telegraph: “I have no legal right to intervene at all - I can obviously apply pressure, encouragement, and I’ve tried to do that.

“And I’m absolutely delighted that we are now out of Wonga and have taken no profit from it.

A furore recently erupted when it emerged that Wonga had sent fake legal letters to customers in order to pressure them into paying up.

Wonga has apologised “unreservedly” for the failings, which happened between October 2008 and November 2010.

It is paying a total of £2.6 million in compensation after sending the correspondence to about 45,000 people and police are considering whether or not Wonga should be subject to a criminal investigation.

The amount of Church money indirectly invested in Wonga was less than £100,000 out of investments totalling £5.2 billion.

The Church Commissioners for England, which produces money to support the Church of England, said at no point was money directly invested in the payday lender.