Backbench Business — High-cost Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 5th September 2013.

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Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour, Islwyn 12:32 pm, 5th September 2013

I agree wholeheartedly. If the hon. Gentleman proposed that, he might gain cross-party support. As my hon. Friend David Wright said, payday lenders have been extremely innovative in using advertising and the internet to reach people and we, as supporters of the credit union movement and community banks, must take a leaf out of their book, become innovative and consider other ways to reach the vulnerable people who see short-term lenders as the only solution to their problems.

After I was granted the debate, a constituent wrote to me about the problems he has faced with short-term lenders. When we met, he told me how payday loan companies added a range of administrative charges, interest and fees on top of initial loans. He borrowed in an attempt to pay back some of the money, but he fell further into debt as he took out loan after loan. He borrowed £400 from Wonga, but now must pay back £739. If he cannot afford the initial £400, how is he to afford £739? Where is the logic in that? It baffles me that payday loan companies seem to think that if someone is unable to pay back a loan, the answer is to take out another one. With Wonga breathing down his neck, he was forced to borrow £100 from QuickQuid, but now he owes that company £201.

My constituent told me that at no stage when taking out the initial loan was he asked about his income or expenditure, which bears out the findings of the Office of Fair Trading’s compliance review that only six of the largest 50 firms in the market made any attempt whatsoever to carry out proper income checks. That is simply not good enough. Had I not carried out such checks when I worked at Lloyds TSB, I would have faced disciplinary action—and rightly so—but such companies continue to follow those discredited practices.

The Office of Fair Trading also found that 75% of payday lenders renewed loans without checking whether they would be affordable, despite the fact that rolling over loans is a strong indicator that the borrower cannot pay back the money. It is especially worrying that each time someone fails to pay back a loan and takes out another one, they are committed to paying not only the interest on the initial loan, but admin fees and hidden charges on the new one.

My constituent was the victim of the culture of multiple loans, but he is not the only one. Some 30% of the people who contact StepChange Debt Charity for urgent help hold four or more loans. Parts of the industry are getting people into a vicious cycle of borrowing from one creditor to pay another. UK borrowers can end up paying back 74% of their initial loan in charges and administration fees on top of the money they borrowed. That figure is capped at 7% in Canada, meaning that the maximum payable in default interest and charges for a £300 loan is just £25. That practice needs further study in the UK. The consumer group Which? has called on the Financial Conduct Authority to replicate existing rules for mortgages and other credit products to help borrowers struggling with repayments. There is already a cap on default charges and fees in the credit card and mortgage markets, and we must consider extending such a cap to credit consumers.

I have further examples of how payday loans mean just piling on the debt. A payday loan company issued a man with a claim for £1,830 in penalty charges that were incurred for defaults on a loan of just £120. Each time the company went to his bank and was unsuccessful in recovering the money, it cost him £5, and the company made 330 attempts to get back the money. On top of that, the lenders added £178 of interest. It would be farcical if it was not true, but for many people in communities such as Islwyn, that is a sad fact of life each and every day. A Which? survey found that one in five users of payday loans were hit by unexpected charges and that, in the past 12 months, more than half of payday loan users had incurred charges because of missed or bounced payments.

We need to accept that borrowing from a payday lender is not like borrowing from a bank. When I worked in a bank, I would meet someone to discuss their needs. We would look at their income and expenditure, and talk about the affordability of loan and why they needed it, but even if the customer credit scored for a loan, I would still have no hesitation in saying no. However, with payday loans, because of the internet and fast access through iPhone technology, there is no one at the end of the line to say no, and what worries is that a person taking out such a loan may have the money in their bank account within 10 minutes.

For many, payday loans are a last resort. Many of the people I talk to have basic bank accounts that do not credit score for financial products. They have never got into mainstream banking, principally because they have seldom come across a bank in their lives. They see walking into a bank as a scary experience, so when they find themselves in dire straits and see the friendly advertising of Maud and Errol and the granny puppets from Wonga, or Amigo Loans, they think that there is a friendly place to go and they pick up the phone—they find it so easy. I therefore welcome the Government’s actions to investigate the effects of advertising and the year-long study of the market. I also look forward to the Financial Conduct Authority formulating a strategy in the autumn. However, I and others who have campaigned on the matter find the speed of implementing such measures frustrating.

As those processes are going on, short-term loan companies are devoting huge budgets to advertising, which I talked about in response to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford. The many daytime adverts predominantly reach the old, the young and the unemployed. Much as I welcomed the Government’s announcement in June 2012 that the Department for Work and Pensions would proceed with a credit union expansion project and make up to £38 million available to credit unions until March 2015, that is just a drop in the ocean.