Black Friday: Financial Products — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:56 pm on 23rd November 2021.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 3:56 pm, 23rd November 2021

We have had a very important debate today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), the hon. Members for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) and for Belfast South (Claire Hanna), the SNP spokesperson—Patricia Gibson—my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden, speaking from my own Front Bench, and the Minister, for their contributions. I also acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend Yvonne Fovargue, who has been a fantastic champion on debt issues, but sadly could not be with us this afternoon.

I also pay tribute to the work of Alice Tapper from Go Fund Yourself, who has been a fantastic campaigner in raising concerns on this issue, as well as to Damon Gibbons from the Centre for Responsible Credit, Martin Lewis, of course—where would we be without Money Saving Expert?—Citizens Advice, Which?, and Step Change, all of whom have tried to sound the alarm about buy now, pay later, in particular.

Today, I want to give the Minister probably the best Christmas present of all, which is oddly enough not a subscription to Michael Bublé on Spotify, but the opportunity to prove me wrong. I want to be wrong about this industry. I want to see the parallels with the same problems that we had with the payday lending industry and be mistaken about this.

However, my concern is that Government are slow and FinTech is fast. Everything the Minister has said today has raised that concern for me. He recognises, rightly, that we need to regulate this industry, yet our ability to do so is hampered by the “what ifs”, which these companies do not recognise and, indeed, thrive in. They are predatory. They are preying on our constituents and evolving at a rate of knots. I am not surprised that they suddenly say that they are in favour of regulation, in the same way that turkeys would say that Christmas is overrated—if we are looking for our festive analogies.

I urge the Minister not to falter. We must move as quick as we can, if not quicker. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys; the role of Back Benchers is to say “Go faster; do it yesterday”. I also asked the Minister what we would do in the intervening period, because we have predators, such as Klarna, Laybuy or Clearpay in our communities. When Clearpay wrote to me to boast that it had 4,000 customers in my constituency, I felt physically sick, because for how many of those people is this actually a solution, and how many is it drawing into debt?

The Minister says that he recognises that we need to regulate and that the lack of the financial ombudsman is a real challenge for consumers, who genuinely would not know that they are not protected when they use buy now, pay later. The question of affordability is not about the product so much as the person. That is what concerns me when we start talking about different ideas of affordability for different products; it is still the same constituent who will end up in our surgeries, about to lose their home because they cannot pay their rent, not able to feed their kids, worrying about their debts, not able to sleep at night.

Regulation is always complicated, but there is a simple truth at the heart of this: the speed at which this industry will evolve and prey on our constituents is disproportionately linked to the slow pace of change in our financial regulation industry. That was the lesson of Wonga. This Christmas, we must learn the lesson of these companies.

While we wait for that regulation, I again repeat the call to the Minister. Use the Government education channels. Use the publicity channels. Warn people that this is not regulated. At least tell them, “Buyer beware”—that they do not have the same protection that they might with other forms of credit this Christmas—not just to check the details of those Black Friday deals carefully, but to check the kind of credit they are using. It is so easy on websites now to slip into buy now, pay later.

I promise the Minister that, this time next year, if he can prove me wrong, he will have the best Christmas ever, but I fear I may yet again be the Cassandra of the credit industry. That is not a position I want to be in, because all our constituents deserve better: not the Grinch, not the Scrooge, but a 2022 where they can look their family in the eye, knowing how they will pay for the food on their table and the roof above their head. That is what good consumer credit is about.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).