UK’s Hargreaves hit by lawsuit over Woodford fund failure

Illustration shows a smartphone with displayed Hargreaves Lansdown logo

By Kirstin Ridley and Carolyn Cohn

LONDON (Reuters) -Hargreaves Lansdown, a top British investment platform, has been hit by a multi-million pound lawsuit over the failure of fallen star manager Neil Woodford’s equity income fund, which left hundreds of thousands of investors nursing losses.

Claims management firm RGL said it had filed the claim in London’s High Court on Friday on behalf of an initial 3,200 investors against the London blue-chip company, which promoted the former flagship LF Woodford Equity Income Fund (WEIF).

RGL is also suing Link Fund Solutions (LFS), the fund’s authorised corporate director, and said its claim could top 100 million pounds ($112 million).

“Both institutions have failed WEIF investors,” said Alexander Weinberg, a partner at law firm Wallace, which is advising RGL.

Hargreaves and LFS declined to comment. LFS has said previously it believed it had acted in accordance with applicable rules and in the best interests of all investors and would vigorously defend itself against claims.

It is the third lawsuit against LFS over the way it handled the fund, which managed billions of pounds before it was suspended amid a political and public outcry in 2019, trapping 300,000 investors and triggering an investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

But RGL is the first to also target Hargreaves over its role in the scandal after Woodford, criticised for holding a large number of hard-to-sell illiquid assets, suspended the fund after struggling to meet redemption requests following months of underperformance. It was later closed and is being wound up.

RGL alleges that Hargreaves continued to recommend the WEIF to clients up to the fund’s collapse, despite being aware of liquidity and portfolio diversification problems. It also alleges LFS failed to properly administer and manage the fund.

The FCA has yet to publish the full findings of its inquiry. But it said last month it could fine LFS 50 million pounds and order a 306 million-pound redress scheme over its management of the fund.

Law firms Leigh Day and Harcus Parker have each filed claims against LFS on behalf of around 13,000 and 7,000 investors respectively. They have expressed hope that they would be appointed joint claims managers at a December court hearing.

RGL has secured after the event (ATE) insurance for the claim, a spokesperson said. The claim is fully funded by RGL for this phase of the litigation and RGL will add external litigation funding, a spokersperson said.

Cliff Weight, director at ShareSoc, which represents retail investors, said he was looking for more clarity over the funding of RGL’s claim.

ShareSoc currently only endorses the Leigh Day claim, Weight added.

($1 = 0.8953 pounds)

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley and Carolyn Cohn; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Ed Osmond)