Backbench Business — High-cost Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:53 pm on 5th September 2013.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 2:53 pm, 5th September 2013

I appreciate that the hon. Lady wishes to intervene, but as time is so short and as I wish to respond to other Members’ contributions, I will not give way. I hope she will forgive me.

My hon. Friend Mr Walker talked about the importance of ring-fenced bank accounts, where payments for rent and bills can be set to one side. The Government are working with consumer groups and banking organisations to see whether more of those types of accounts can be provided, because they can be an important budgeting tool.

Yvonne Fovargue has campaigned for her constituents on high-cost credit issues for a long time. She rightly highlighted concerns about CPAs and the way in which banks have treated them, because where individual customers decide to cancel a CPA, that should be honoured. She will be pleased that the FCA took up that issue seriously once it came into being earlier this year. It now has agreement with the high-street banks that they will ensure that when a customer asks for a recurring payment to end, that will be sufficient to cancel the arrangement. Furthermore, if any payment subsequently goes through by mistake, the customer will be refunded immediately. That will not solve all the problems on CPAs but it is a good start, in terms not only of dealing with the problem, but by showing the FCA’s recognition of it and its willingness to act.

My hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson has a strong record on campaigning on financial education, and he highlighted the issue of convenience and the importance of price information. He also rightly highlighted real-time credit checking as a key area. I found interesting his idea of a levy on the industry to enforce that kind of credit checking. The industry is examining whether it can do that itself and I hope it will do so, but it is important that the Government keep all ideas such as his in mind, in order to be able to do that in future.

Paul Blomfield had his private Member’s Bill and we had a good debate on this subject in July. Today, he asked about the date for the consultation and I can confirm that we still expect that to be in September. I cannot give him an exact date, but he does not have long to wait. We look forward to the FCA’s report.

My hon. Friend Tracey Crouch made a frank and moving speech about some of her own experiences and highlighted the human side of the argument—hiding from bills and lying awake at night worrying about debts. It is important that we bear that in mind when we discuss these issues.

Let me pick up on the points made by Nick Smith about whether post offices could play a role in supporting credit unions. There is scope for further work there.

Sir Tony Baldry wanted to chime with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call to compete Wonga out of business. The fact that the hon. Member for Islwyn summed up the relationship between credit unions and the payday lending industry as like that of David and Goliath was particularly appropriate given the Church’s intervention. I was pleased to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury on this issue along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

It will not be a short-term solution, which is why regulation is also important, but it is part of the long-term answer.

Meg Hillier made considered remarks about the importance of there being different products in the market and the certainty that home lending, for example, can provide to some customers. She was also right to highlight some of the problems with some of the hire purchase agreements through companies such as BrightHouse. Although they might not technically be high-cost credit because the APR is not sufficiently high, the length of the loan means that customers can end up getting a raw deal.

Issues of financial education were highlighted by my hon. Friend Guy Opperman. My parliamentary neighbour, Mr Bain, talked about the Colston road divide and the important issues facing small credit unions. My hon. Friend Neil Parish highlighted the issues of the spiral of debt.

We have had a positive debate. I share the concerns that have been raised and Government and regulators are acting. The OFT has taken action and 19 of the 50 top lenders have left the market. Three further licences have been revoked. The FCA will have strong new powers from April, the Competition Commission is investigating and the House is right to keep up the pressure. I commend those hon. Members who have taken time this afternoon to put forward concerns on behalf of their constituents.