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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle