Finance (No3) Bill: High cost credit lending

Neil Parish calls for Government action over high cost credit lenders who charge vast levels of interest and knock on doors to exploit the most vulnerable people in the country. He suggests, at very least, a requirement that lenders state how much will have to be repaid on a loan of £100.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I rise not to support the new clause but to say to Ministers that I would like to hear exactly what they intend to do about doorstep lending. The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) mentioned Wonga, which can charge up to 4,500% interest on its loans. Uncle Buck can charge 2,500% and PaydayUK can charge 1,200%. With a base rate of 0.5%, how can charging such inordinate interest be justified? These companies—I call them all loan sharks, to be blunt—travel around our poorest areas. I would be the first to admit that my constituency is not the most deprived in the country, but I have many poor and vulnerable constituents, and I think that Members on both sides of the House are concerned about what action we should take.I know that Ministers are not keen on dealing with this problem through regulation, but perhaps we should consider our approach to smoking: we do not stop people smoking—although we have banned it in public places—but we put large health warnings on cigarette packets. The Financial Services Authority, or whichever body will be responsible, should at the very least take action so that there are serious health warnings for those considering taking out these loans.Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one aspect that should be looked at is television advertising?Neil Parish: The hon. Gentleman is right that the advertising and promotion of these products is a great concern. These products can seriously damage someone’s financial health, because they not only get them into huge debt, with huge interest to pay, but can often prevent them from securing mainstream credit, which can affect them enormously.I am not greatly in favour of regulation, but I do not think that we can stand idly by and let some of the most vulnerable people in the country be exploited. They are desperate for money, and people knock on the door and offer them it. In fairness, many of them do not look at all the details or consider the fact that they will have to pay such high interest if they do not repay the loans. They do not realise that they will probably be charged even more interest if the loan is renegotiated, and that if they do not pay on time the loans company is likely to impose huge fines. That is unacceptable in this day and age and we must do something about it.About 50% of the population in Ireland are involved in credit unions. In the US and Canada, the figure is about 40%, in Australia and New Zealand it is about 25%, but in the UK it is only 2%. I know that the Government are looking into increasing the availability of credit unions across the country, but we need to act much faster. In the meantime, we have to act against these companies, the loan sharks, because people who take out the loans sometimes have to pay back 10, 20, 30 or 100 times as much as they originally borrowed.If the loan sharks’ argument is that they lend on those terms because the people to whom they lend are a security risk, we must question whether they should lend the money in the first place, and certainly at such massive amounts of interest. They must take the view that if 25 of the 100 people to whom they lend are forced into bankruptcy they will make enough money from the other 75 to make a profit. Is that moral and right? The answer is certainly not. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, that cannot be right in this day and age.I have mixed views on the new clause, but I do not want Ministers to wring their hands and say that there is nothing they can do. In fairness to the Government, I should point out that the Opposition cannot hold their heads high, because they had 13 years in which to do something about this issue. It is right for the coalition Government to take the issue on. Instead of wringing our hands and saying we can do nothing, let us do something.Lorely Burt: My hon. Friend is talking, almost interchangeably, about loan sharks and high-cost credit lenders regulated by the FSA. The Government have put even more money into the loan shark operation to clear them from the streets. It is important that we do not mix the two, because whatever one thinks about high-cost credit loan companies they are at least regulated and we are doing things to improve them. Loan sharks are totally unacceptable in this country.Neil Parish: I agree with the hon. Lady to some degree, but I say to her bluntly that charging 4,500% interest, whether it is done legally or not, is theft. As a farmer, perhaps I have slightly jaundiced views about bankers, who offer an umbrella when the sun is shining and want to take it away when it starts to rain. We cannot go on letting vulnerable people be exploited—it does not matter whether it is being done legally.David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The challenge is that people always say that we have to do something about this issue, but it is never clear what that thing is. For me, the vital thing is awareness. The issue is not just loan sharks but extends to organisations such as BrightHouse. Does my hon. Friend agree that people need to understand the true cost of what they are borrowing?Neil Parish: I share that view entirely. At the start of my speech, I spoke about a financial health warning on a loan, including what the rate of interest will be. There should also be an example, perhaps showing what the principal amount would be to repay if one started with £100.Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): I support the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree even when people know the rates, they have little choice because they cannot borrow from any other type of organisation? Research shows that a quarter of these companies’ customers cannot get credit elsewhere, so even when they know the rates they have no option.Neil Parish: The hon. Lady is right that parts of the population cannot borrow elsewhere, which is a problem. That is another reason for clear warnings, if not restrictions, on the rates of interest charged.The problem is not just that there is a population who cannot borrow from anywhere else but that many companies and loan sharks knock on people’s doors. Credit is often dished out in cash, which is very tempting. Some people could, if they went to a great deal more trouble, secure money from proper lending companies at a competitive rate.Mr Jim Cunningham: People also borrow against their wages, which puts them on a financial treadmill that is hard to get off when there are such extortionate interest rates.Neil Parish: The hon. Gentleman refers to payday loans, which also incur huge amounts of interest.I am not against people being able to borrow. In a capitalist system, people need to be able to do that, but we must stop companies exploiting people’s vulnerability and lending at such vast rates of interest. That can be achieved either by legislation or by companies having to provide a clear statement of what a loan will cost when their representatives arrive on somebody’s doorstep and try to lend them money. If someone who borrows £100 will end up paying £2,000 back, that should be absolutely clear. That is the very least I should like the Government to do.I have made, I hope, many good points, and I hope too that the Government will not just wring their hands but do something to help vulnerable people and stop legal loan sharking companies taking money from people in a way that I believe is theft.| Hansard