A payday loan company has been ordered to pay back hundreds of dollars in fees to 61 Manitobans who were charged too much.
The Manitoba government's consumer protection office says Cash Store Financial Services Inc. violated the maximum allowable charge for short-term loans — $17 for every $100 borrowed, including all related fees.
The company, which owns The Cash Store and Instaloans, charged consumers additional fees for cash cards or electronic fund transfers, according to the protection office.
Those fees brought the total borrowing cost above the legal limit.
"It's very important those threshholds are not exceeded, because these are very vulnerable citizens," Gail Anderson, director of the consumer protection office, told CBC News on Tuesday.
Gordon Repula, a retired farmer, told CBC News earlier this year about a line of credit he took out from The Cash Store — and the 33 per cent in fees he had to pay.
Repula said in February he had to pay back $133.18 on $100 he borrowed from a line of credit at a Cash Store outlet in Winnipeg.
"It's the worst company to ever loan from," he said.
The government says people who paid too much at Cash Store or Instaloans outlets between Oct. 18, 2010, and Oct. 17, 2012, may be eligible for a refund.
Consumers can call the consumer protection office at 1-800-782-0067.
A spokesperson for Cash Store Financial Services told CBC News late Tuesday that it respects Manitoba laws and has paid back all the money it owed.
The lines of credits offered by the company are legal, the spokesperson added.
'Customers were literally being gouged'
The province's crackdown on Cash Store Financial Services pleased Diane Robidoux of Xtra Cash, a payday lender near downtown Winnipeg.
"I'm really, really happy, because I don't like what I see," she said.
Robidoux said her store never charges more than what is legally allowed, but she added that she has heard many complaints about practices at The Cash Store.
"Customers think $17 is a whole lot of money and I often want to say, 'Well, you know, try that place and then come back,'" she said.
"The customers were literally being gouged — [that] was my opinion."
Robidoux said many clients don't even know there is a law governing payday loans in Manitoba. The legislation came into effect in 2010.
The Credit Counselling Society of Manitoba says it has seen a 30 per cent decrease in the number of people struggling with payday loan debt since then.
"These regulations are in place to protect consumers, and they're working," said Christi Posner, a counsellor with the society.
But Robidoux said the law doesn't work well enough, pointing out that The Cash Store allowed its payday loan licence to lapse, meaning its line of credit products skirt around the law.
The provincial government said it's always working to update the legislation, but said no changes are planned right now.