Thurrock MP in clash on high cost of credit.

THURROCK MP, Jackie Doyle-Price rose on the floor of the House to lead a debate on high cost credit.

Jackie Doyle-Price said: “It is a great pleasure to follow Chris Evans, who has given an excellent introduction to the debate. I pay tribute to colleagues on both sides of the House who have done so much to shine a light on some of the more irresponsible practices that have sadly become all too commonplace in this industry.

My remarks today will focus on what I think we would all agree has been a regulatory failure in this section of the market, and I want to refer to a Public Accounts Committee report which some hon. Members present today were involved in producing. We looked at the regulation of consumer credit earlier this year, and we reached the firm conclusion that the Office of Fair Trading had been found wanting in getting to grips with tackling some of the more unpleasant practices of high-cost lenders. The message that I would like Parliament to send out today is that we are now at a crossroads with the regulation of this sector. The Financial Conduct Authority is preparing to take responsibility for it from the OFT, and bearing in mind that the OFT has been so slow in getting to grips with this, I want us to send a clear signal that we all expect the FCA fully to use the regulatory tools at its disposal really to give the sector challenge, and to be fleet of foot in intervening where we see poor practice.

The OFT has had a number of tools that it has failed to use, and there are clear breaches of rules. There are powers under the unfair contract terms regulations that could easily have been used to tackle some of the more unacceptable levels of fees and penalties for default, which are probably the most acute cause of additional cost to anyone who takes out these loans. Equally, every credit provider is required to follow responsible lending rules. As the hon. Member for Islwyn outlined in some of his examples, the advancing of credit to people in such situations was far from responsible lending. The OFT has the power to withdraw credit licences, but it has failed to use it, resulting in irresponsible lenders and unscrupulous companies exploiting the vulnerable and

laughing all the way to huge profits. That is not acceptable, so Parliament needs to give a clear signal about what we expect the FCA to do in future.

Much of the debate in the past has focused on how we control some of the costs. As I have said, I believe that the unfair contract terms regulations give regulators the power to intervene to control some of them. However, we have a real problem with the consumer credit directive, which has prescriptive rules about how firms advertise costs of credit with reference to APRs. The reality is that APRs are meaningless in this sector, because we are talking about loans that are advanced for a short period. The real issues are how much the credit will cost and the transparency of additional charges. I have seen one example of a payday lender who charged £25 for each reminder letter sent when a customer defaulted. That would not be caught by any regulation regarding APRs. It is an unfair contract term and a clear exploitation. The powers exist to control such activities. The PAC stated explicitly that we wanted the misleading APR rules to be ditched and replaced with clear guidance on and responsibility for publishing the cost of credit in amounts repayable in cash.

I also associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on credit unions. As we all readily understand, the only reason customers access credit in this way is because they cannot get it from anywhere else. Unfortunately, mainstream lenders are not interested in providing small loans for short periods. However, we have to be careful about prescribing additional regulation for the sector, because if people cannot get credit from it they will go elsewhere and that will send them into the hands of some very unscrupulous people.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow, Labour)

Will the hon. Lady give her evidence for that assertion? It is a myth that many of the lenders propagate. Where does her evidence come from to show that if caps were introduced, people would go elsewhere?

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

The reality is that people will follow regulation if it is economical to do so, otherwise they will go elsewhere. My evidence is that people are accessing these loans in the first place. We have a failure in the market to extend affordable credit, and that is the issue that we are trying to tackle today. I remind the hon. Lady of what was said earlier. The rules and the tools are already in place, but the regulator has failed to use them. This is not about more burdensome regulation; it is about regulators being prepared to use their teeth and the tools that they have to do the job.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour)

Further to that intervention, the hon. Lady may remember that the PAC heard evidence from Fair Finance, which explained that if the interest rate was capped, as a social enterprise it would have to lend a higher amount to individuals, so risking greater indebtedness. So we have to get the balance right to make sure that people without a credit record get the loan that they need but are not over-indebted.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

The hon. Lady is quite right. The cost of extending small amounts of credit is higher, pound for pound. We have to be sufficiently grown-up to realise that when we are considering regulation. I have not yet come across one consumer organisation that is in favour of caps. They all recognise that there is a market failure and a need to clean up the industry, but caps are not their preferred tool. However, there are some measures that they would like to see. The first is a ban on excessive default fees and charges. Again, this is not the preserve of the payday lenders. Unauthorised overdraft users also experience punitive charges, which again illustrates that these are issues that extend throughout the credit market, which the regulators need to grips with. In fact, Which? has found that unauthorised overdraft users suffer more from excessive charges than payday loan users: more than 20% of overdraft users are surprised by the level of charges they face. Again, we need to look at using the regulatory tools available. The FCA’s requirement will be that any institution has to treat its customers fairly, and that would extend to not having excessive charges. The regulatory power is there; it just needs to have the guts to use it.

Secondly, the FCA must give a clear signal that it really will implement the rules on irresponsible lending. We have seen that 48% of payday loan users and 44% of unauthorised overdraft users have taken out credit that it turned out they could not afford. It is clearly irresponsible lending for any firm to continue extending credit with roll-over loans or to let an overdraft get ever worse. It must be clear to lenders that they will face penalties from the regulator if they continue to exploit vulnerable consumers.

We all need to think about what more we can do to support effective debt management and encourage people to take appropriate advice, because when people are that desperate the only place they can go is to those lenders. We need to make it much easier for them to access advice that will help them, so that they do not get into a worse situation.

There also needs to be a clear sign to lenders that they must give clearer information on what the consequences will be if people default. We know that many consumers are over-optimistic about their ability to pay off credit on time and in full, so clear warnings are needed about what the consequences will be if they do not. Those warnings need to be given in a simple and clear way, such as by stating the amount of cash it will cost per £100 if the loan is not paid on time, so that people really understand the deal they are getting into. Again, that is consistent with the Public Accounts Committee’s recommendation. Even mortgage statements, and indeed any credit, should come with clear health warnings explaining the consequences of missed payments. All costs must be transparent.

I believe that those measures would greatly strengthen the protections for consumers. That is what we really need to focus on today. I agree that we must look at what more we can do to support credit unions. I think that employers have a big role to play, because we know that many payday loan customers are in jobs. If employers can be encouraged to have relationships with their local credit union, that would be a good way of signposting people to more reputable lenders. We need to use the tools we already have for the job: tough rules on responsible lending, tough action on default charges and much more regulatory activism.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow, Labour)

I am pleased to follow Jackie Doyle-Price, because I genuinely believe that there is now a clear divide between the political parties on how best to approach something that we all agree is a problem. I am pleased that Government Members are now talking about the problems payday lending causes and recognise that there is a problem with the market. Our disagreement is over how to deal with those problems and what the challenges are.

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Lady that my perspective on how to deal with the incentives in the market is very different from hers. In the time available, I want to try to explain why I think that tackling the incentives is so important and why the evidence on how caps work shows that they are the best answer, given the challenges we now face.

When I talk about those challenges, we must remember that in the past three years we have seen a tenfold increase in the number of people going to a citizens advice bureau for whom debt involving payday lending is a problem. When I started campaigning on this issue, along with many colleagues, we were looking at 1 million people borrowing in that way, but the figure is now 5 million, and 20 million people in this country are desperately worried about their debt picture, with the cost of living continuing to rise. We know that people need access to credit and that these loans are causing problems with gaining that access. I absolutely accept that not everybody who borrows from a payday lender gets into financial difficulty, but enough of them do, as a result of the terms of the loans and how the market works, that it is right for Parliament to intervene and to try to learn from the experience of other countries about what works in tackling that kind of credit.

In this industry people do not make money by lending at a high rate of return; volume is what matters. If lenders can lend to people in a way that makes them more likely to keep coming back to borrow more, because the following month they are a little short again, and the month after that, that is when they make their profit. Indeed, market analysts have pointed out that 50% of the revenues of those companies come from just a small number of their customer base, their repeat borrowers. Indeed, one company operating in the UK makes 23% of its profits from just 34,000 people. Who are those 34,000 people? They are the people who are constantly indebted because every month they have to borrow, because borrowing from those companies means that they are more likely to borrow the following month.

It is the spiralling principle that we have to tackle. When we look at that principle, we must ask what incentive it creates for the market and how the companies make their money. The OFT research shows something that many of us have been warning about: debt is positive in this industry. If a company can get people in a situation in which they have to keep rolling over their loans and borrowing from them, that is how they make their profit. That is why we are seeing Wonga making £1 million a month more in this country. It is not just Wonga; there are now four companies in the UK making over £100 million a year by working in that way, pushing people into debt, constantly extending their loans and pushing them with their marketing and advertising.

They know that because those people have borrowed from them once, they will probably need to borrow from them again, because that is the way in which the loans are constructed.

Some people borrow £300 but end up owing £811 in interest alone by the end of the year because they get caught in that spiral and because of the price of the credit. That means that the average payday lending customer, who earns £18,000 a year, would pay 6% of their entire annual income to pay off a £300 loan. It is little wonder that the OFT research shows that few of those companies are doing affordability checks, because affordability does not matter once they have people hooked. It means that they can always get some money from them.

Who are the people who take out payday loans? There is the nurse who came to see me. She borrowed £100 because she had a flat tyre. She ended up paying back £17,000. Thankfully her mother, because she got a redundancy settlement, was able to help her out. There is the father who came to see me. He has tried to tell Kwik Quid multiple times that his son has mental health issues and asked it to please to stop lending to him because he cannot afford to keep paying the bailiffs when they turn up at his doorstep. But of course they keep marketing, because once they have someone hooked they are more likely to have to keep coming back again and again.

Yes, all those practices break the self-regulatory codes that those companies have come up with, but that should tell us something. Just as it is no point asking turkeys to organise Christmas, it is no good asking companies to act themselves when they can make those kinds of profits by setting their own terms, hooking people in and continuing to charge them to set the limits. It makes no sense. That is why we have to learn from other countries where intervening on price is what has changed behaviour. Yet those countries still have payday lending industries and have not seen the exit that the companies threaten. They also have lower levels of illegal lending and personal debt.

Which countries am I talking about? There are multiple examples we can learn from when it comes to total cost capping—not interest rate capping, which I have never argued for, and which nobody else I know could credibly argue for. Whether we learn from Japan, the American States such as Indiana and Washington, from the Canadian states of British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, or from Australia, which has brought in new models, there are examples out there of how we could tackle the problems that people in our country are facing now with the cost of credit without removing their ability to get hold of credit.

Like my hon. Friend Chris Evans—I pay tribute to him for the work he has done in the all-party group to promote credit unions—I am a passionate defender of credit unions, but I have one in Walthamstow that is working as hard as it can against 18 of those credit companies on my high street, and that is before we even get to online lending. He is absolutely right: it is not a fair fight. That future credit market that works for everyone contains payday lenders, credit unions and social finance organisations.

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Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 5 September 2013, c514)
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Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the issue of imbalance, because one of the answers that have frequently been given to me is that we need credit unions, but when volunteers are pitted against professionals that is very difficult. Would it not be helpful if far more financial support was given to credit unions to back that up?

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow, Labour)

I absolutely agree. In that future model of a finance system that will work for people struggling in a system in which the cost of living is continuing to rise, credit unions absolutely need to be supported to expand and grow. We know that they make up only about 6% of the total finance market in this country, but that is alongside a capping process.

The time for arguing about whether capping is the most effective intervention in this market is over, because the evidence from other nations is overwhelming. The question we should be asking ourselves is what we can learn from that for the UK, because the UK credit market is different. We have always been a nation of people who are much more willing to borrow, and so the terms and reference frames for any kind of cap must reflect that. That is where the Financial Conduct Authority could come in. That is why we fought so hard to give it the power to cap, and why I am pleading with the Government not to sit on their hands yet again on this issue.

The Financial Conduct Authority takes over in April next year. It is hampered by the fact that it needs to see the evidence about the UK credit market. It needs the credit reference data and other evidence from the companies, all of which claim that they are responsible lenders, yet about all of which we have heard stories of bad conduct. Indeed, Citizens Advice has shown that some are not even following 10 of the 12 good practice codes. If we are really serious about resolving the problems in this market, let us ask the FCA to do its job but also give it the data so that it can do so from the get-go in April. We should tell the companies to give it the data about their credit market, their profit ratios and how they are operating so that we can see how and where a cap would influence the UK credit market from April next year. Let us not kick this issue into the long grass yet again, because we now have a window of opportunity.

I am sure that many Members, like me, have people in their communities who have £10,000 or even £15,000-worth of unsecured personal debt hanging over their families. Asking those families to make long-term choices about education, social care and housing costs is a non-starter in that context. Those debts are racking up because of these kinds of practices. We could help them to manage the cost of living, to manage their borrowing and to make ends meet if we do our job today and get the regulator the information that it needs so that it can make the choice about what kind of cap would work in the UK. I think that the Japanese model is the way forward, because it has been done in practice along with the industry and consumer groups. Let us not have another three years of talking about how terrible these problems are and having to work in our communities with fantastic groups such as Movement for Change, the trade unions and the credit unions to try to deal with them when we could do something to avert them in the first place.

I hope that Ministers will today make the commitment to push the industry to give the information to the Financial Conduct Authority so that it can hit the ground running from April 2014 and finally bring in the cap that British consumers deserve.

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