By Kalvin P. Chapman
On 22 September 2016 the Times ran an article confirming that the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) had declined to investigate Acorn Finance. A review of the SFO’s website shows that they did not put out a press release about this, nor was Acorn Finance listed as an active case (it only shows cases being actively investigated).
The Acorn Finance matter has been rumbling on for some years. During the golden era of financing (2004 to 2007) loans were plentiful from many finance sources. In regards to the disputes raised, Acorn Finance typically lent money to farmers as far as the alleged disputes are concerned. Acorn undertook a lot of other areas of lending, but Farmers have alleged that their cases were and are different.
Acorn would lend the money and would then call in the loan. Many farmers were unable to repay the loans and their farms would be seized as a result. A lot of farmers have lost their livelihoods. It is typically the very high interest rates that farmers are alleging was unfair.
The matter was discussed in Westminster by concerned MPs on 11 November 2014. The Times has covered the issue numerous times. A case (Dickinson v UK Acorn Finance Limited) was positively heard at the High Court (2014 on appeal from the county court) and Court of Appeal (2015). This was only in respect of whether Acorn could have the claimants’ case dismissed as an abuse of process. Acorn lost. The case is very positive, but does not change the other issues Acorn cases face.
Two issues typically have been difficult for the farmers. The first is limitation. Most of the loans were entered into more than six years ago, so the right to sue in the High Court has passed. The second is money. Such cases, if not time barred, are expensive. Acorn has shown that it is very willing to defend these cases. Without money it is next to impossible to bring a claim in the modern legal system. Court fees alone make such cases difficult to bring. The costs of barristers and solicitors also make them difficult. Many of the farmers have lost their livelihoods, their farms repossessed, and so cannot fund a High Court claim. This, unfortunately, was the undoing of many of the cases.
We have no doubts that the issue will continue being discussed, but on a legal basis, it is difficult to see what may change that would enable these cases to be brought to the Courts. Limitation, as noted, is an issue. The SFO investigation might have uncovered sufficient evidence of (as was alleged) fraud that on accession may make a late case possible. With the closure of the SFO file, that possibility has also passed.
Muldoon Britton is a litigation only firm. We would be happy to discuss your case with you, however, as the above notes, limitation of six years is a hurdle that needs to be surmounted. If you are facing a possession claim, it is possible to rely upon the High Court and Court of Appeal decisions in Dickinson v UK Acorn Finance Ltd. We would be happy to discuss this with you further.
 Westminster Hall Debate 11 November 2014