Simon Read: Do payday lenders treat people with dignity and respect?

  • @simonnread

Some great news from payday lenders this week. They claim that we've got them all wrong and, in fact, their customers are a very happy bunch. They've done some research to back up their claims, too. According to the survey – funded, incidentally by the Consumer Finance Association which represents some payday lenders – 93 per cent of payday loan customers think the firms treat them with dignity and respect.

That's a level of customer satisfaction which would be the envy of even well-thought of companies. So how did the payday lending industry achieve it? Especially when the research was published alongside a survey of MPs, Lords and councillors which showed that only 5 per cent of them think payday loan firms treat customers with dignity and respect.

So why the disparity? Have the policymakers really got it so wrong? And what about the journalists like myself who have campaigned for more controls over payday lenders? Have we been misled by the bagfuls of letters of complaints from badly-treated and fed-up customers?

Is it not true that some payday lenders push vulnerable people into a spiral of debt and depression? Do they not prey on hard-up families by trying to tempt them into spending money they can't afford?

And, am I wrong to publish stories about unscrupulous payday lenders that target students or out-of-work people with ads encouraging them to borrow money to spend "on a night to remember"?

I'm currently looking into two payday lenders that have made readers' lives a misery. One turned a £250 loan into threatening demands for more than £2,000. In the process the lender increased the cost of interest – an illegal move. The other looks set to be an even more shocking tale.

So how do such stories square with the positive Consumer Finance Association figures? That's simple. They didn't ask customers from a number of different payday lenders about their thoughts. They simply went to one of the country's biggest payday lenders – the Money Shop – and asked 300 of their customers.

Presumably those customers were happy to pay for expensive short-term credit. I accept that there may be plenty of people who use payday lending for convenience and can easily afford and are happy to pay the high costs.

But their views are not representative of the million or more folk who feel forced to turn to payday lenders after being turned down by more traditional forms of credit. It's these folk that payday lenders prey on, with their 4,000 per cent APRs and often excessive default fees.

And for that reason, I'll take the industry's self-serving research with a huge dose of salt. Rather than trying to portray payday lenders as good guys, the Consumer Finance Association – and other bodies representing payday firms – should crack down on the firms that turn borrowers into victims.

Until the industry is completely clean of all accusations of preying on the vulnerable, they can stick their research.