When the firm was placed into administration in 2014 there was a client money shortfall of £7m.
First Step’s customers, who were vulnerable individuals requiring assistance with their debt, were told their monthly payments would be placed in a “pot” that would then be used to pay off their creditors.
Instead, the money from the pot was used by the Whitehursts to fund their luxurious lifestyle and businesses.
The couple spent over £500,000 on restaurants and holidays, including stays in Marbella, Venice, Vienna and Greece, and £200,000 on luxury cars, including a Bentley, a Range Rover and a Ducati.
Adrian Whitehurst received over £1m in cash for his own personal use, while an additional £1m of client money was used to benefit firms associated with the couple and £2.2m was spent on First Step’s expenses.
Following numerous complaints, the firm was investigated by the OFT in 2010 and found to have engaged in “deceitful, oppressive, improper and unfair” business practices. Its licence was revoked in 2013.
The FCA found that the couple had misappropriated at least £2.75m of client money.
“The Whitehursts were trusted by their customers, who were extremely vulnerable, to help them with their debt problems,” said FCA executive director of enforcement and marker oversight Mark Steward.
“They abused this trust, living a luxury lifestyle at the expense of people who could not afford to lose their money.”
Steward added that the couple showed a “complete disregard” for the consequences of their actions.
The ban was the strongest sanction available as the Whitehursts’ conduct took place before the responsibility for regulation of consumer credit was transferred to the FCA.
Both Adrian and Christine Whitehurst were referred to the City of London Police, who are currently considering the matter.