Finally - a bill that could actually do something to regulate the payday lending industry

Blomfield's private members' bill includes measures to set new rules around the affordability of loans, payday loan advertising, debt collection and payment, debt support, and penalties for companies who fail to comply with existing regulator guidance.

It's Monday 1 June, the government are under pressure to do something about the payday lending industry, a summit is set up, but before proceedings even begin it's noted that the discussion will not tackle modifying the price of high cost credit. Instead it will be a light conversation on what cosmetic changes can be agreed to.

On the same day Wonga's chief executive Errol Damelin told an audience at a conference on money banking and finance hosted by Wired magazine in Canary Wharf: "We'd love as serious a regulator as possible to help understand the business, and the more proactively engaged our regulators are the better."

He's talking about the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the same regulators as the ones who earlier in the year threatened tougher compliance checking before sending letters out to each payday lender operating in the UK. He's also talking about the same OFT who Wonga had to write an open letter to informing them that they had not sent over any “specific information” for them yet.

This is why I support the private members' bill by Paul Blomfield MP, which gets its second reading this Friday. Left up to the current administration very little would get done to the light-touch regulatory structure over this controversial industry. The outcome of the summit is still more waiting around, regulators sitting on their hands, action to properly address high cost credit not being carried out.

Blomfield's bill includes measures to set new rules around the affordability of loans, payday loan advertising, debt collection and payment, debt support, and penalties for companies who fail to comply with existing regulator guidance.

The details and strengths of the bill are straightforward. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), who take over from the OFT on regulating payday lenders in April 2014, will be able to cap the cost at which a lender can charge you for credit – which at the moment is around £30-35 per every £100 borrowed over a 30 day period – to a reasonable proportion of a borrower's income.

Consider now how unreasonable this cost is today. Let's say you take out £100 from a payday lender, typically you can end up paying back around £130, provided it's paid back on time. If you arrange an authorised overdraft of £100 from your bank, for example, you would pay back £101.60, which includes the £100 principle and £1.60 in interest (though many banks allow overdrafts of this cost to be interest or fee-free).

Let's take another example. If you take out a payday loan of £300 (just above the average £270 which was borrowed in 2012) you would pay back £390 if you paid back on time after 30 days. With a credit union loan of £300 it would cost £4.47 in interest. Paying back £304.47 rather than £390 is a no-brainer.

The other strengths of the bill include setting advertising standards for the industry showing how much you could spend on a loan from a payday lender in pounds and pence, rather than at the annualised percentage rate (APR). Advertising would also have to show a "health warning" sign, to show that it is rarely the best form of credit to apply for in hard times.

The bill also calls for a freeze on all charges when a person with a payday loan misses a payment, the obligation for lenders to signpost free impartial advice on debt, and enforcement powers to be determined, such as compensation, if the details of this Act (if it becomes an Act) are breached.

What Paul Blomfield MP has done in his bill is absolutely necessary. The new FCA regulation was supposed to have teeth but as we find out more of the detail there are already gaps emerging. Furthermore the government, though in principle wanting to tackle predatory lending, are flagging. This bill is a corrective to all that.

A sign for a loan shop on Brixton High Street in London. 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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.