David Prosser: Store card watchdog lacks bark or bite

Take Christopher Clarke, the commission's deputy chairman, who last year earned an annual salary just shy of £53,000 for a four-day week. This week, Mr Clarke completed his investigation into whether the store card industry is anti-competitive and guilty of overcharging some 11 million borrowers.

It can't have been the toughest assignment. It's just taken me about five minutes to look up the interest rates charged by the 70 or so retailers that offer their customers store cards. Most are in the region of 25 to 30 per cent a year, about four times as expensive as the cheapest conventional credit cards. And since a handful of lenders - around five - stand behind all these store-card schemes, it's pretty clear that something approaching a cartel has been operating.

The good news is that Mr Clarke has come to the same conclusion. On the downside, it's taken him two years to get there. The commission was first asked to investigate what everyone else already knew - that store cards are an outrageous rip-off - in March 2004. This week, the watchdog has at last published its final verdict. Guess what? It's decided store cards are an outrageous rip-off.

Some readers may now be a little anxious that Mr Clarke could be feeling under pressure to do something about this con. If so, let me reassure you. The commission has indeed come up with some new rules designed to bring store card lenders to book, but it won't be introducing them for another 12 months.

Fair enough; the store-card industry has only had two years - and a preliminary report published last year - to get used to the idea of a tougher regime.

Nor should Mr Clarke be overly taxed in enforcing the new regulations, some of the most toothless measures I've ever seen. For example, lenders charging more than 25 per cent annual interest will now have to tell borrowers each month that cheaper credit is available to them elsewhere. Charge a still-exorbitant 24.99 per cent, on the other hand, and no such rule will apply.

All lenders, admittedly, will be bound to publish clearer information on the statements they send to customers. But that's no use if you've already spent a fortune on your store card. And it won't protect you from pushy sales assistants who, despite having no financial qualifications whatsoever, are often incentivised by retailers to advise customers to take out this overpriced plastic.

All in all, working at the Competition Commission looks a good move to me. Plenty of money for not a great deal of action. Now where do I send my CV?

* I see David Cameron has recruited Kirstie Allsopp, everyone's favourite property guru, to campaign against the Government's plans to introduce home information packs next year. While she's at it, she might want to turn her attention to stamp duty.

Research published by the Portman Building Society today shows that in the nine months since the Government doubled the level at which stamp duty becomes payable - on home purchases worth £120,000 and above - the Treasury has still earned more from the tax than it did in the previous nine months.

The average home-buyer now pays £3,184 in stamp duty, and most first-time buyers - about whom Allsopp is most concerned - are having to pay the tax.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor