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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.