Daytime television's enticing message

If British people are stacking up debt it might have something to do with what they see on television, where for years personal finance firms have promoted their wares with the help of celebrities. Ex-cricketer Phil Tufnell, for example, is the face of, Carol Smillie smiles for Axa Sun Life and the famously numerate Carol Vorderman represents Firstplus.

These ads can promise a lot, aiming to "make your dreams a reality" in the case of Firstplus, or to leave you "flush with cash" (Axa) - a vision of borrowing that millions of indebted people would not recognise.

The loans business is highly regulated (and no doubt the celebrities are acting in good faith), but the ads are causing concern. Axa was fined last year for a "misleading" campaign involving Smillie, and the Financial Services Authority is reviewing the way equity release schemes are promoted.

Doubts about ads for consolidation deals were raised in parliament in January by Peter Pike, then the Burnley MP, who said of Vorderman: "People know her and her expertise in mathematics from her role in Countdown, so they listen and believe that she offers a way forward." He continued: "They often do not realise what the small print says - that taking a consolidation loan might mean securing it with their homes."