Finally there's agreement that payday lending needs to be tackled. But how?

Access to banking, co-operative credit and caps on interest should all be considered.

The payday lending industry is in total disgrace. After a survey and report carried out by Citizens Advice, who called the industry “out of control”, it has been shown that lenders have sold loans to young people aged below 18, people with mental health difficulties and people who are drunk. This is contrary to any responsible lending criteria and should therefore be dealt with rigorously by the authorities. 

To make matters worse it has emerged that complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) about payday lending shot up 83 per cent last year, the third highest rise of any sector with the exception of the home credit industry (139 per cent) and payment protection insurance (PPI – 140 per cent).

The Office for Fair Trading officially began their investigation of the industry in March 2013, but since the CAB's results run up until 13 May 2013 (when their in-depth analysis of 780 cases stopped) it's safe to say that bad practice carried on regardless of OFT oversight. 

Even the payday lending trade association, the Consumer Finance Association, has its own Code of Practice which its members (making up 70 per cent of the payday lending market in the UK) pledge to commit to, including rules of affordability assessments, debt collection procedures and grace periods for troubled debtors. 

The trouble is irresponsible lending is woven so firmly into the business model of payday lending it is hard to erase it. When we consider for example that 28 per cent of loans are either rolled over (where one loan is taken out to service the interest on an existing loan) or refinanced, which provides 50 per cent of a lenders' revenue, it's a very big ask to expect the industry to voluntarily give up a big part of its profit maximisation. 

What's more is that payday lenders do not compete on price, but rather speed of service. Therefore if a high street is littered with lenders this will not have too much effect on the price at which a loan will cost (which ranges from around £25-35 per £100 loan, per month) but drives lenders to make faster decisions, incentivising the accepting of loan applications irresponsibly. 

As Stella Creasy MP said on Tuesday “this industry continues to fall out of the grip of regulators”. Indeed it looks like its getting worse before it gets better. 

However we are still at a point where we are merely finding faults with the industry and not seeking solutions. 

Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, in her FT editorial on Tuesday, pointed out that banks need to take some part in the blame for the rise of payday lending. 

In so doing they should also do the following: a) accept responsibility and offer a product to challenge payday lending; b) provide basic “jam-jar” accounts for individuals which also offer budgeting support; c) offer face-face financial support; and d) reopen their offer of current accounts to undischarged bankrupts. 

This would be a fantastic start in the consumer credit industry, but alongside this government should also acknowledge the ways in which other countries tackle predatory lenders.

The Financial Conduct Authority will have the power to cap the cost of credit when they take over from the Financial Services Authority on payday lenders in April 2014. They should use it, looking to the rest of the world for guidance. 

For example in France and Germany there are restictions on where credit is available from. In Germany interest rates are capped at twice the market rate and in France the limit is reviewed every three months. There is no evidence to suggest illegal lending is any more a problem in those countries than in the UK where there is no cap on the price at which a lender can sell credit. 

Furthermore, in the UK, there are 7.7 million bank accounts without credit facilities, nearly four times the number of Germany (2 million at the end of 2006) and France (2.1 million in 2008),while 9 million people cannot access credit from mainstream banks in the UK, as opposed to around 2.5 million in Germanyand between 2.5 million and 4.1 million in France.

Looking further afield to Canada, unless changed through provincial legislation concerning the provisioning of payday loans, usury laws prevent lenders to charge interest above 60 per cent per year. In case this squeezed supply without addressing the demand for this type of finance, Canada has made a big push on credit unions as an alternative to high cost, short term credit. 

According to the World Council of Credit Unions Canada has the highest per-capita membership in credit unions in North America. More than a third of the population is a member of at least one credit union.

Also in Japan there has been a total cost of credit cap from 40 per cent to 29.2 per cent between 1986 and 2000. While illegal lending has not risen (in fact it rose with the loosening of restrictions on the amounts credit sellers could lend at) neither has lending from mainstream banks or Shinkin (the equivalent of credit unions). 

According to Damon Gibbons of the Centre for Responsible Credit, this has been “part of a more general trend amongst Japanese households to reduce their use of credit over this period.”

There are many more examples like this that the government could and should consider but instead it runs scared of firmer regulation. We've seen the damage and irresponsibility done by payday lending, now we need to do something about it. 

If Gillian Guy's recommendations about what the banks could do to incorporate more people into mainstream finance were taken up, government could really start to crack down on the legal loan sharks, bringing some crucial changes to responsible credit and financial inclusion.

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.
 

Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump