Last Updated: 15 February 2011
Created: 15 February 2011
Last week I helped lead a debate on consumer credit and debt management, seeking to gain extra protection for consumers against high cost credit agreements, pay day advances and loan sharks.
This was an essential debate, secured with cross-party support, as we sought to protect the most vulnerable consumers. It is a delicate juggling act; whilst we need to protect people, we must not create a situation where the loan market is squeezed and consumers are pushed into a spiral of ever-increasing debt and higher interest rates. As we saw with the recent measured and balanced changes to the credit card industry, I believe this can be achieved.
The areas where I am pressing for action include:
- Caps on the total cost of loans – I fully support the principle of limiting the amount someone has to repay. This should be considered as part of the credit review, with a clear objective to find a workable formula.
- Doorstep lending – It is crucial that we look into the sales techniques of doorstep lenders. The ‘nudge-nudge’ techniques, where doorstep lenders visit residents in their homes and encourage them to borrow yet more money over a cup of tea, risks trapping people into a long-term cycle of debt.
- Financial education – I’ve already launched the All-Party Parliamentary Group to promote Financial Education for young people, working with Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com. It’s vital that we equip the next generation with the necessary skills to make informed decisions and become savvy customers with the confidence to shop around.
- Transparency – We need to continue to increase the transparency of costs and interest rates, to allow consumers to understand the implications of the loans they are signing up to. All too often loan companies use complicated marketing jargon and small print to help seduce consumers into costly, long-term arrangements. Incidentally, confusion over interest rates also applies to savings accounts.
- Credit Unions – I fully support efforts to increase access to credit unions. In the long-term, we must give serious consideration to making this service available through our Post Office network.
- Savings culture – As a society we need to address the principle of saving. As a nation we have an insatiable appetite to ‘buy now, pay later’. Over the long-term we need to change that, because where possible people need to have a savings buffer for changes in their circumstances. Evidence shows that the majority of people who fall into financial difficulties have done so because of something like the loss of a job, family bereavement, or divorce, leaving them unable to service their debt.
I will continue to work with MPs across the party divide to deliver much needed consumer protections.