Financial Exclusion: Access to Cash — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:58 am on 21st May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party 9:58 am, 21st May 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra on securing this debate. I will echo one of her points, and then throw in two other issues.

First, credit unions represent a potential solution to financial exclusion, but they suffer from regulatory handicaps at the moment: they cannot offer a series of products that are clearly in demand, including car lending, insurance and credit card services, and they often cannot offer services to small businesses. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister what action the Government will take to sort out the problems in this area, which I know he is familiar with. Credit unions have been lobbying for some time for legislative changes, and to get a more sympathetic regulator. From what I can see, nobody on the FCA board has any credit union experience whatever. There was someone in the past, but there does not seem to be anyone with any awareness of credit unions, and that may explain why the FCA has interpreted the Credit Union Act 1979 in a particularly restrictive way to date.

We have to accept that there is a significant market failure in the provision of financial services, but we should also accept that the big banks still have a responsibility to help tackle the problem. They should be held to account for who they are lending to and in which districts. In that sense, they should support a campaign that the Centre for Responsible Credit is particularly vociferous in. It demands that banks publish what they lend down to postcode level in an anonymous way. Through that, we could track the areas that are genuinely being supported by the bigger players in the financial services industry and the areas with a need for charitable activity or more support for credit unions.

Lastly, if someone is looking for financial services products in media and advertising terms, they are deluged with services offered by the big banks or the payday lenders. Credit unions and other charitable and not-for-profit lenders are not given anything like the same attention. There needs to be a significant effort by Government at all levels to promote alternative sources of lending, with a particular focus on credit unions.