High-interest lenders move on from paydays

"Payday loan" companies are starting to branch out to much longer terms

Turn on the telly during the daytime and you are very likely to see adverts informing you about PPI claims or payday loans. Now there are a new bunch to be aware of: 12-month, high-cost, unsecured loans at rates of interest of up to 278 per cent – meaning that repayments will already be over twice the amount you have borrowed, and that excludes fees and penalties that might be incurred (Pounds to Pocket, for example, charge £12 for their penalty fees).

That these companies are advertising expensive loans over a year, with no credit checks, and where the money can be in your account in ten minutes, shows another failure in the mainstream banking sector to offer sensible loans to consumers.

Figures show that even after UK banks were in receipt of bailout funds, 1.75 million people go without a transitional bank account, and 9 million lack access to affordable credit. To bolster this credit cards have dropped in circulation by 1 million since 2011 and membership to credit unions have not risen from 2 per cent of the population, despite funding and modernisation attempts.

The cost of living, including how much we spend on food and bills, continues to go up, and real incomes are no higher than they were in 2005 for many of us.

As payday lenders are set to be the beneficiaries of this mess in personal finance, it's hardly a surprise to see them venturing out with other products. One broker, 1 Year Loan, has on its website:

If you too [sic] facing inadequacy of funds and want a [sic] financial help, then 1 year payday loans can be the loan service that you can rely upon […] Apply with 1 Year Loan No Credit Check right away!

With the 12-month loan, lenders offer larger sums that they claim are competitive when compared with other payday lenders.

Mentioned in a report on these new loans in the Independent, the company Lending Stream boast that their 3,378.1 per cent APR beats Wonga's 4,214 per cent equivalent – though of course Wonga do not encourage taking out loans over 6-12 months.

Pounds to Pocket, another company, on their website point out that if you borrow £500 for a year you would pay back £79.09 a month, a total of £949.01 including interest of £449.01.

It is to the shame of mainstream lenders that expensive alternatives are seeing a growth in their product. In France and Germany mainstream credit facilities are part of most basic bank account packages – something not extended to everyone in the UK.

In the Independent's report, the journalists mistakenly say that payday loans could become small fry compared to the 12-month loans, while the headline notes: "Forget payday loans, the one-year debts are the ones to fear".

This is not the right way to look at the situation. What this represents is payday loan companies finding a gap in the market and swooping in where mainstream services are being risk averse. This should not put us at ease with payday lenders at all.

Minister Norman Lamb recently welcomed the revised codes of conduct from the four trade bodies that represent payday lenders (Consumer Finance Association (CFA), Finance and Leasing Association (FLA), British Cheque and Credit Association (BCCA) and Consumer Credit Trade Association (CCTA)).

But payday lenders are obliged to show how much their product costs anyway, set out in the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) lending code. In their guide on irresponsible lending, the OFT note that lenders should carry out proper credit checks and disincentivise rollovers. The revised codes are the very least we can expect.

Yet the industry is currently under investigation by the OFT after concerns lenders are taking advantage of people in financial difficulty – which is contrary to their codes.

We should not become complacent about the payday lenders even when other products arrive on the market that do not sit well with us. The government and Norman Lamb should be spending all the time they can spare to finding out why people end up taking out these loans and making sure they can seek mainstream services where it benefits them.

A payday loan company in Birkenhead. Photograph: Getty Images

Carl Packman is a writer, researcher and blogger. He is the author of the forthcoming book Loan Sharks to be released by Searching Finance. He has previously published in the Guardian, Tribune Magazine, The Philosopher's Magazine and the International Journal for Žižek Studies.
 

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.