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28 November 2012

Cap the cost of credit to make life easier for those forced to turn to payday loans

Tackling the legal loan sharks.

By Carl Packman

Today, Lord Mitchell, an opposition spokesperson for Business, Innovation and Skills, will debate an amendment he has introduced to the Financial Services Bill (now in the report stage in the House of Lords) to potentially cap the total cost of credit which lenders can charge (this is different to capping interest rates in so far as interest rate caps can be sidestepped by upping other costs such as administrative fees. Total cost caps seek to address this potential loophole).

Many peers, like Lord Sugar and Baroness Thompson-Grey, the Welsh former wheelchair racer and disability campaigner, have already pledged their support for his amendment, which will give the new Financial Conduct Authority the power to apply sanctions to those who offer credit contrary to the its terms.

But it’s an amendment which everyone, from all political parties, should get behind and support.

It is good for consumers

While the payday lending industry has enjoyed unprecedented growth (worth £100m in 2004, now worth over £2bn in 2012) in recent times, credit access has become tougher for consumers. Around 1.75 million UK adults go without a transactional bank account in the UK today and 9 million adults cannot access credit from mainstream banks. This spells bad news for consumers as the only option for many is expensive short-term loans. Capping the costs of credit will make borrowing less expensive for consumers, at a time when wages are stagnant and the cost of living rises.

It is good for the economy

Damon Gibbons for the Centre for Responsible Credit, in their recent report on Japan and interest rate caps, noted that, all things considered, putting a ceiling on the amount a lender can charge for a loan will make borrowing less expensive – given the rate at which over-priced short-term lending has risen over the last few years. This will have a knock-on effect on saving behaviour and investment. Reinstatement of savings initiatives like the Savings Gateway should also boost this kind of behaviour.

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It doesn’t contradict the Tory message

Small-c conservatives in the Tory Party have always raised concern about how financial institutions can hurt, rather than help, the finances of those most vulnerable in society. But even those of a more free market bent inside the party have started to see what a problem payday lending is. Damian Hinds MP, chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions, for example, once felt the market would drive down prices in payday lending, but has now decided that “normal market rules do not apply with payday lenders”.

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It will not boost illegal money lending

Important work carried out in 2010 by Professor Dr. Udo Reifner, Sebastien Clerc-Renaud, and RA Michael, for the European Commission, found no convincing evidence to back up the argument introducing interest rate ceilings leads to a growth in illegal lending “or would force people into arrears and default on bill repayments”. In fact it is found in the same report that in spite of the fact the supply of credit in France and Germany is not as abundant as in the UK, this has not been matched by an increase in illegal lending.