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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.