Bishop of Birmingham leads call for improved regulation of payday loan advertising

01.04.14 Bishop of BirminghamOn 26th November 2014, the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, led the debate on two amendments to the Government’s Consumer Rights Bill, during its Report Stage. The amendments,which the bishop spoke to on behalf of the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, sought to improve the regulation of payday loan adverstising in two ways – first, through preventing payday lenders from targeting children with advertising on television and second, through the regulation of unsolicited telephone Bishop of Truro 20.6.13calls from payday lenders. Amendment 47, related to pre-watershed advertising, was pressed to a vote by members of the House of Lords. No bishop took part in the division, and the vote was not successful. The Government did, however, state that the regulator, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) had agreed to broaden the remit of its review into the content of payday loan advertising to consider scheduling rules.

Amendment 47

Moved by The Lord Bishop of Birmingham

47: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—

“High-cost short-term consumer credit market regulations

(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument direct a designated body to prohibit public communications, including promotional material and any promotional activities, which concern a high cost consumer credit service from targeting people below the age of 18, including by regulating the content and timing of such communications with a view to protecting children and other vulnerable persons from harm or exploitation.

(2) In subsection (1), “designated body” means a body specified by the Secretary of State in regulations made under that subsection.

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I am speaking today to the amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill in the name of the Bishop of Truro. He sends his deep regrets that he cannot be in his place today. I extend my and his thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Mitchell and Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for supporting the amendment in Committee. Peers from all sides of the House spoke in favour of the amendment.

In recent years, we have seen a massive increase in the use of payday loans and therefore in the advertising of them. As we know, in Birmingham and other parts of the country, access to affordable credit is extremely difficult for vulnerable families. In September this year, the Children’s Society published a report on the effect of advertising and telemarketing of payday loans. The report had a number of findings on which noble Lords spoke in Committee and I would like to remind your Lordships of four of those.

More than half of children aged 10 to 17 are seeing payday loan advertisements “often” or “all the time”. A third of teenagers would describe payday loan adverts as fun, tempting or exciting. These teenagers are significantly more likely than their counterparts to say that they would consider taking out a payday loan in the future. Three-quarters of parents back a ban on payday loan advertisements before the watershed. Parents aged 18 to 24 are twice as likely as those aged 25 to 34 to have taken out a payday loan. This amendment proposes the watershed as the sensible cut-off point to protect children best. The 9 pm watershed is a well known, well rehearsed and established tool for parents, who are able to have some control over how much television their children watch. Even if in the real world we are all aware that some children will watch television after this point, banning adverts of this kind before the watershed would prevent them seeing the majority of them.

In the government response to the amendment in Committee, the noble Baroness the Minister described how new rules on payday loans advertisements with regard to signposting and risk warnings would be significant enough to protect vulnerable families. The rules are welcome but regrettably, warnings, although important in protecting adults, do not always protect children from detrimental impact on their long-term attitudes to debt and money management. In that debate, the noble Baroness also outlined the recent changes to the curriculum which made financial education a statutory requirement. That is another welcome change to help combat the inappropriate marketing practices of lenders. Now we need to make sure that that work is not being undone when children go home from school and sit in front of the television.

The amendment has gained support both in the House and outside. Major organisations have added their names in support of this change. Organisations such as StepChange, the Money Advice Trust and MoneySavingExpert have all seen the point of using the watershed cut-off. I hope that the Government will respect that widespread support and take the opportunity not only to give your Lordships a firm commitment to look at the issues in depth but to consider changing the regulations on scheduling of payday loan adverts.

(via Parliament.uk)

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Baroness Jolly (Government Response): My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for raising the important issue of the payday lending industry again. I repeat what I said in Committee—that the strong feeling in the House on this matter is clear, and the Government share the concern that payday lenders’ advertising can encourage irresponsible borrowing and cause consumers real harm.

The Government have worked hard on this issue to listen to as many views as possible, both within this House and beyond. As was noted earlier, I have met and spoken to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro several times, and just this morning the Minister and I met the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham—who is an excellent understudy in this matter—and other noble Lords, to discuss their concerns…

I repeat that the Government are determined that children are protected from inappropriate advertising by payday lenders. The Government have introduced a wide range of reforms to clean up the payday sector and these are already having a significant impact in protecting consumers. The Government welcome the extended BCAP review to ensure that evidence informs both the content and, indeed, the scheduling rules around payday adverts and continues to deliver a forceful regulatory approach. I hope that noble Lords also welcome these developments and recognise the Government’s efforts to find agreement on this matter. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

 

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I am grateful for the full, well informed and passionate debate that we have had on this subject. There has been considerable progress. With the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I was here during the passage of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act last year and this area was given a lot of attention. We expected change and change has begun to happen. There is certainly a mood in the House today that further change should take place, change that must happen quickly. Children grow up very quickly and one or two influences at a certain age can make a dramatic difference, not only to them but to the behaviour of their parents, as has been so well illustrated today.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for reminding us that we need not only rigour but action in order to pursue proper behaviour by this area of commerce, just as we expect proper responsibility from all our citizens in managing their money, even in extremely difficult circumstances. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for asking the Minister to enable us in this House to hold this business accountable in public, so that further action can not only be monitored but be insisted upon.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for challenging me on my use of the English language and on using back-street “slanguage”, when the language of the Treasury and the legal department—but also the advertising industry, which understands perfectly well when we say “content and timing of … communications”—is what is meant. The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, brought some of that insight. We have regulators, of whom we expect great things: the Advertising Standards Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority and, of course, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice.

Advertising of this kind, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is unsuitable for children and is corrosive to the family. The approach to this very difficult issue, success though there has been, in multifaceted. A degree of negotiation and persuasion, as well as authoritative legislation, is needed in these powerful institutions that are driven, really, by our consumer society.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part today and I thank the Minister for taking this issue not only seriously but further by agreeing that the Treasury will write to the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, by broadening the scope of the accountability it must take and by insisting that the content and the timing of adverts must not only be improved but satisfy the points made in this House. The watershed is vital, as is the issue of content. There is a long way to go but I look forward to working with my noble colleagues in this House, with the Minister and with the Children’s Society and the other charities that have been mentioned in ensuring that what has been passionately argued today takes place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

(via Parliament.uk)

Some Lords objected to the request for leave to withdraw the amendment, and so it was not granted.

Division on Amendment 47

Contents 200; Not-Contents 216.

Amendment 47 disagreed.

 

Amendment 48

Moved by The Lord Bishop of Birmingham

48: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—

“High-cost short-term credit: unsolicited marketing

(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must make regulations made by statutory instrument to prevent the sale of high-cost short-term credit through unsolicited marketing calls.

(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I move Amendment 48 in the borrowed shoes of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, which are reasonably comfortable—or were, until about 10 minutes ago. The amendment is in his name and that of my noble friend Lord Alton.

The subject is telemarketing, which is in the same vein as payday loans. The discussion of this amendment in Committee made some strong progress with the issue, and I was pleased to see how many of your Lordships spoke in support of it right across the House. I am sure that many noble Lords will have been irritated by cold calling down the telephone. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s current consultation on nuisance calls is an important contribution, and an opportunity to tackle the issue of cold calling as a whole, but this amendment is focused on the specific problems caused by cold calling for high-cost credit.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro said in the previous debate in September, the report Playday not Payday, whichhas already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alton, looked into the devastating effect of payday loans on children and particularly at the use of telemarketing. It found that only 7% of those parents who had never taken out a loan were receiving such calls, whereas 42% of those who had taken out loans previously were receiving calls. Again, younger parents, aged 18 to 24, are most likely to have taken out a payday loan, so the bulk of these calls are going to young parents who are already financially vulnerable. This concerns me greatly. According to a poll of clients of StepChange, the debt charity, one-third of them have received an unsolicited marketing call offering them a payday loan. Although unsolicited calling may have some benefit for consumers in some industries, there is no question but that they are unsuitable for high-cost credit.

In Committee, it was discussed how a gap in the regulations is allowing payday loan companies to use unsolicited marketing to offer people payday loans through phone calls and texts. For mortgage products, however, this type of unsolicited marketing is banned by the Mortgage Conduct of Business rules. The Financial Conduct Authority, whose efforts have already been mentioned and which regulates payday lenders, is very clear on this issue. It says:

“Cold calling can expose consumers to high pressure sales tactics which mean that they can end up with an inappropriate or over-expensive product or service. Our investment and mortgage financial promotion rules therefore ban cold calling … unless certain conditions are met”.

The noble Baroness agreed in Committee to look into this issue, and I look forward to hearing her response. With the Financial Conduct Authority now taking over regulation of payday loans, it makes perfect sense to protect people from high-pressure selling of what can, even after the new cap on costs, turn out to be very expensive products.

(via Parliament.uk)

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Neville-Rolfe) (Government Response): My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham for presenting the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro’s amendment with such clarity, oratory and, if I may say so, brevity. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his telling contribution and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her contribution to our debates on unsolicited calls and nuisance calls and for the examples that she has given, which I will not seek to repeat…

However, today I can announce new measures. As part of the FCA’s clear and ongoing plan to tackle sources of consumer detriment in the payday loan market, next year it will consult on payday loan firms’ unsolicited marketing calls. This consultation will be undertaken in the early summer, following the closure of the authorisation “landing slot” for payday loan firms. The FCA has written to me committing to this, and I am happy to place its letter in the Library of the House. The consultation will specifically include looking at whether these calls should be banned. The FCA will also take a close look at payday loan firms’ use of other unsolicited communications, including text messages and e-mails…

As I hope I have shown, the Government take the issue of nuisance calls very seriously, and I have outlined the areas where we are taking action to tackle the problem of payday loans and more generally. We have responded to the specific concern raised in Committee—a very fruitful discussion, I should say, and I thank all those involved, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—about requiring mandatory caller line identification for marketing calls by committing to bring forward new legislation.

I hope the robust package of protections I have outlined today, and the FCA’s continued commitment to root out the bad practices we have all been discussing, reassures noble Lords, and that the right reverend Prelate will withdraw his amendment.

 

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her remarks, and particularly for obtaining agreement from the Financial Conduct Authority that in its next stage of consultation it will attend to the presenting issue of telesales in connection with payday loans. I expect that it will attend to that with its usual rigour and in a timely fashion. We heard today that this will be no later than the summer of next year. We have also heard that this will cover not only telephone calls but texts and emails as well.

I am most grateful to those who have contributed to the debate, especially the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I have also been very interested to hear the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on the wider issue of nuisance calls. She referred to the “bank of mum and dad”, which highlights the underlying issue—the fact that while some people can go to the bank of mum and dad, even if they have to make a nuisance international phone call to do it, the people we are really trying to protect are those who have no other recourse than to go for unaffordable money at exorbitant rates.

In closing, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her forthcoming birthday. I hope that on 2 January, in addition to the present suitable for a public servant, she receives other presents that require no one to take out a loan to provide them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 48 withdrawn.

(via Parliament.uk)