Simon Read: The payday lender betting on passers-by to borrow a stake
Payday lenders assure me they don't prey on the vulnerable. Instead they claim to offer a valuable service to busy people who need cash in a hurry.
These folks, the lenders claim, are happy to pay the high costs of borrowing in return for the convenience of getting their hands on cash when they need it.
So it's interesting to note where they have their branches. This week I spotted a branch of the Money Shop in Earl's Court in west London handily placed next to a bookies (see picture above).
I would like to think the shop's handy position is pure chance and that the firm did not deliberately target desperate gamblers happy to pay a premium for the opportunity to make another bet.
But I suspect chance had very little to do with it. Who is more likely to be tempted by an offer of instant money than a gambler who has just lost a packet on some dodgy nag?
But maybe I'm being unfair to the payday lender. Maybe it had its branch there first and the opportunistic business was Coral. After all, the point of its shopfront is to tempt punters into making sucker bets. And what bigger sucker is there than a happy one with a fresh wad of notes in their pocket?
I make no apologies for returning to the subject of payday loans this week. First I was interested to read that around one in eight people has resorted to borrowing money from a payday lender since the credit crunch hit in 2007. That's according to a survey by TolunaQuick, which also revealedone in five people would turn to a payday lender for cash to cover rent or mortgage payments.
Being forced to borrow money to cover such essentials shows how close to the financial edge many people are. That's also been reflected in my postbag where I've been told some really shocking stories of terrible firms that have hounded vulnerable people while appearing to ignore the credit laws. I hope to be able to bring you some of these stories in coming weeks, although, as you may imagine, the victims in most cases are too frightened to speak out about their tormenters.
But, on the other side of the coin, I had a very constructive meeting with the Consumer Finance Association (CFA), a trade body which represents a number of the more "respectable" payday lenders including, incidentally, the Money Shop.
The CFA appears to have the same desire as me to crack down on other firms that use bully-boy tactics to extort more cash from borrowers. For that reason I'm hoping we can work together to expose some of the worst of the legal loan sharks and force the authorities to put them out of business.
The problem appears to be that while it's easy for almost anyone to gain a consumer credit licence which allows them to offer loans, it takes up to two years of investigations by the Office of Fair Trading to outlaw rogue firms by withdrawing their licence.
That, I believe, needs to change. With it being so easy to set up a website these days and more hard-up folk turning online for short-term credit, there must be stronger powers to crack down on the dodgy firms.
In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing the results of the Office of Fair Trading review of the payday loan sector later this year. It is gathering evidence of the activities of rogue lenders and anyone can submit their views. Simply go online to www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/Credit/complaint-form.pdf to complete a complaint form with details of why you're reporting a lender. The deadline for submissions is Friday 18 May.
And do check out my article on credit unions on on page 57. The Government hopes they can step in to help vulnerable people and, effectively, be a sustainable replacement to payday loans. But it looks like a lot of work needs to be done. What do you think?
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