It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the Bill put forward by Anna McMorrin. As an accountant by profession, having spent my previous career in manufacturing businesses in and around Sedgefield, I am still in awe of the detailed discussion that has been brought to this debate, particularly by my hon. Friends the Members for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), and I shall pick up later on one of the points made by the latter.
Before looking to speak on this Bill, I had to clarify for myself what a “co-operative and community benefit society” is and what an “environmentally sustainable investment” is. A co-operative society is run for the mutual benefit of members who use its services. This is based on the common economic, social and cultural needs, or interests, of the members. A community benefit society is run primarily for the benefit of the community at large, rather than just for the members of the society, which means it must have an overarching community purpose that reaches beyond its membership. One type of co-operative is a credit union, and I am concerned about the unintended impact of this measure on the users of these credit unions.
A credit union is a co-operative bank that is owned and managed by its members, all of whom have accounts in the bank. Like banks, credit unions accept deposits and make loans, but, as member-owned institutions, credit unions focus on providing a safe place to save and borrow, at reasonable rates. I have visited a number of them, including the NE First Credit Union service point at the leisure centre at Newton Aycliffe, in the north-east, and I strongly encourage people to use its services before buying on any high-interest hire purchase scheme, as that normally results in substantially higher costs being paid. Such services are a real alternative to the exploitative payday loans and high-interest rent-to-own payment systems most commonly used for household good such as fridges and washing machines.
With a rent-to-own scheme people get the product straightaway, and then make weekly, fortnightly or monthly payments, plus interest; insurance or warranty policies are often included in with the item. The interest to be paid on rent-to-own agreements will now be limited to no more than the cost of the product. Therefore, someone who buys a fridge from an RTO company for £250 will pay no more than £500 in total, and interest and other RTO charges will be benchmarked against mainstream retailers and the cost of living. That still means, however, that someone’s fridge that costs £250 will cost them another £250 in interest. With a credit union, the interest is more likely to be around £50. We want opportunities for credit unions to develop, but they must be safe havens with little risk, because the people who save with them are likely to have little alternate capital.