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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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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