“I only missed the one payment and my house was struck by lightning,” a distraught Jim Copple exclusively told The Sleaze this week. “I’m taking it as a warning, as only one corner was scorched. God only knows what will happen if I miss another payment. I mean really – only God knows. It could a plague visited on me and my family, my first born being murdered. Anything!” Copple’s experience is one of several incidents which have resulted in the Church of England’s new money-lending service – ‘Your Daily Bread’ – which was created to put payday loan companies out of business, being called into question. “Surely the whole point of this service was that it was to be based upon Christian principles and would eschew the heavy-handed tactics of the legalised loan sharks like Wonga,” muses Professor Walter Tonk, chair of theological banking at the Wokingham School of Animal Husbandry. “Yet increasingly we are hearing these stories of apparently divine retribution against customers who default on payments. They are completely out of proportion – even the average unlicensed loan shark would only consider breaking your legs after the arrears on a loan had reached four figures. Yet those who miss a single instalment to ‘Your Daily Bread’ risk being swallowed by a whale whilst taking a bath!”

The Church of England has responded to such criticisms by claiming that the apparent acts of God befalling defaulters aren’t actually part of its loan service’s policy. “I’m afraid that the Lord moves in mysterious ways and we must all abide by His will,” Bishop John Upright, Chief Executive of ‘Your Daily Bread’ recently told the Bexhill Christian Herald and Advertiser. “The reality is that, although we ordinarily wouldn’t impose such drastic sanctions on clients who miss a few repayments, preferring to have a nice chat with them over a cup of tea and offering them sympathy, if Our Lord decides that stiffer punishment is required, then who are we to dispute his wisdom?” Upright speculates that those borrowers currently feeling the wrath of God could actually be paying for their sins. “We must remember that He sees and knows all,” the clergyman explained. “These people might well be just spinning us some sob-story designed to deceive when they tell us that they couldn’t make this month’s payment because they’ve lost their job or their house. In reality, they could have blown all their money on drugs or prostitutes – we would be none the wiser. But the Lord knows and gives his own judgement!”

Jim Copple vehemently denies being a sinner, secret or otherwise. “It’s bloody outrageous – I’m on a zero hours contract and I didn’t get called into work for three weeks! That’s why I fell behind with the payments,” the thirty one year old hotel porter and father of three indignantly told us. “But this bloody vicar who came round after the lightning strike kept accusing of having gambled all my money away on the horses. Bloody cheek!” Copple also revealed that, due to his precarious financial situation, he had allowed his house insurance to lapse, meaning that he has no way of paying for repairs to his home following the lightning strike, let alone paying back the ‘Your Daily Bread’ loan. “When I asked the vicar what I should do, he suggested I follow the Church’s example by setting up a ‘roof fund’ to pay for the repairs,” he says. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – he seemed to think all our problems could be solved by organising fetes and coffee mornings! He reckoned I should get my wife baking cakes to sell – she’s eight months pregnant, for God’s sake! These people are completely out of touch!”

Questions are also being asked over the financing of the Church’s new credit service, with allegations that it is under-capitalised. “It is most perplexing – who exactly is backing ‘Your Daily Bread’? As far as we know, the Church hasn’t borrowed from any bank of financial institution to provide the start-up capital,” notes Professor Tonk. “So where does the money they are lending come from? They’re always claiming poverty, passing around the collection plate to pay for repairs to their churches, so it isn’t coming from their own reserves.” Once again, Bishop John Upright simply refers such critics to the scriptures. “Doesn’t the Bible teach that the Lord will provide?” he told the Bexhill Christian Herald and Advertiser. “Didn’t Jesus feed the five thousand with just a few fishes and loaves? Who is to say that our business isn’t based upon a similar model? If the Lord deems it right, then a quick whip round at the morning service and evensong could surely become a loan of up to three thousand pounds repayable over sixty months at a surprisingly low interest rate.”

The Bishop’s explanation, that ‘Your Daily Bread’ is effectively financed on the basis of divine miracles, has resulted in at least one of its payday loans rivals making a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading, alleging that it faces unfair competition from the Church of England. “There’s no way we can compete with these Holier-than-thou bastards if they can just magic up funds at will,” declared Bob Clunkett, Managing Director of ‘Moolah’, one of the leading payday lenders. “They can write off bad debts without making a loss, so they can effectively extend credit to anyone regardless of their credit rating! Even the deadbeats we wouldn’t give the time of day to. How can that be fair? Plus, if they do enforce the debt, they can threaten an eternity burning in Hell, when the worst sanction we can offer is a County Court Judgement and two broken legs!” Clunkett has already complained about the tactics allegedly used by ‘Your Daily Bread’ to try and put competitors out of business. “It really isn’t right – we’ve had instances of their nuns phoning up our sales agents, posing as customers, then reducing our people to terrified wrecks by claiming that they’ll be condemned to purgatory for charging ludicrously high interest rates,” he claims. “If it isn’t that, they’re sending bloody plagues of locusts to blight our call centres. The bastards!”