Money News: Banks seek to swap notes on customers

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The Independent Online

Banks, building societies and other lenders are to try to thrash out a way of sharing all credit data, to keep a lid on severe consumer indebtedness.

Concerned at high levels of bad debts and bankruptcy, and keen to promote greater responsibility in the granting of credit, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has begun consulting on how lenders could legally share information on millions of accounts opened before the late 1990s.

Today, lenders share a mix of "negative" data such as missed payments, and "positive" data such as size of repayments, on 350 million customer accounts through credit reference agencies including Experian and Equifax.

People with these accounts ticked a box when they signed up for the credit agreements, and this means the data sharing is legal.

But these rules don't apply to some 40 million, mainly current, accounts opened before the end of the 1990s. Other than defaults on repayments, information on the credit histories of these customers can't be shared between lenders.

"This consultation seeks views on the extent to which this 'non-consensual' credit data could be shared - subject to appropriate safeguards - to enable lenders to make better, more responsible decisions," said the DTI. The consultation ends in January.

Housing: Gazumping back as prices soar

UK house prices are increasing at their fastest rate in more than four years - with gazumping back as more buyers go after a short supply of properties, according to a nationwide survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics).

The trade body's findings for September reveal that, among its members, 45 per cent more reported a rise in prices, compared with those who said that prices had fallen. That's a big jump on the 35 per cent disparity recorded in August, and more than double the long-term average of 21 per cent.

"Greater economic activity has created a ripple effect in house prices across the country," said Rics spokesman Jeremy Leaf. "With [housing] stocks low, and buyer enquiries on the increase, sellers remain in pole position to benefit in the short term."

London and the South-east are leading the property boom, said Rics, as it warned of a return to gazumping in London. This practice - of an accepted offer being trumped by a rival, higher bid at the last minute - was widespread in the 1980s when a booming economy took the property market to dizzy heights.

However, Rics' research has come under fire, with Paul Smith, chief executive of the Haart estate agency chain, claiming that gazumping was "almost negligible in the majority of cases".

Credit cards: The last of the big spenders

Consumer spending on credit cards is levelling off as consumers concentrate on clearing debt instead, a report from payments body Apacs has found.

The sum spent on credit cards flattened out last year - rising just 1 per cent to £124.1bn - while the number of transactions fell by 1 per cent to 2.1 billion.

At the same time, borrowers are focusing on clearing their debts, with 95.3 per cent of all spending last year being repaid. Bank of England figures show this is the highest proportion of settlements since 1998.

Further, the proportion of cardholders who repay their balance in full each month has climbed to 59 per cent - up from 56 per cent in 2004.

"Our figures show UK cardholders are reining in spending - a trend that has continued throughout this year," said Apacs spokeswoman Sandra Quinn. "Bank of England figures in September 2006 show credit card repayments overtaking spending for the first time."

Nervousness about the prospects for economic growth, she added, could also have contributed to the reduced spending and increased repayments.

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