The great credit card scandal

Companies defy ministers by increasing charges despite plunging interest rates

Credit card companies are facing an investigation by competition watchdogs after defying government warnings to improve their lending practices.

An analysis by The Independent has found that the cost of card borrowing has risen over the past three months despite three cuts to the Bank of England base rate. Cardholders are now facing average interest rates of 17.7 per cent on credit cards, up from 16.6 per cent 12 months ago.

The Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, had given providers two weeks to come up with fair principles to help cardholders manage their debts following a summit with card providers in November. By Thursday, the Government is expecting proposals from the industry on how it will implement fair principles on existing debt, responsibly provide credit and support households in difficulty.

Failing to do so could see the card companies facing investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), but so far card providers have made no move to reduce the expensive lending rates which so often plunge debtors into further financial hardship.

One government source said last night: "We are not backing off. If the companies don't move, if necessary, we will go down the OFT route."

Only two cards, those designed to track the base rate, have reduced rates since Lord Mandelson's ultimatum and Yorkshire Bank and Clydesdale Bank have gone ahead with increases to the rates and fees they charge their Gold Mastercard customers. Halifax and the Bank of Scotland have also increased balance transfer fees.

A spokesman for Clydesdale Bank said: "The changes in our rates were announced in October and our rates remain very competitive. We fully support the Government's initiatives for helping people in difficulties."

Store card debtors are facing even higher rates despite cheaper borrowing for lenders. The average cost of borrowing is now 25 per cent a year, up from 23.9 per cent this time last year, with no sign of a cut in rates even though the base rate has dropped from 5.25 per cent to 2 per cent over the same period.

But based on the industry's response this week, Lord Mandelson and the Consumer Affairs minister Gareth Thomas are expecting to produce a plan to address the dramatic increases in some cardholders' bills.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said: "We've asked lenders to report back by the end of this week and have been in continuing talks with industry following our summit [on 26 November]. We have every expectation that industry will come back with proposals to stop the pockets of bad behaviour that we have identified in risk-based repricing and will continue to work with them to ensure borrowers are treated fairly, responsibly and consistently."

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, said: "The Government has got to get tough with credit card companies determined to make a quick buck out the millions of people struggling to make ends meet. Tough words are worthless unless they are backed up with real action."

Alan Duncan, the Conservatives' business spokesman, accused ministers of pumping out "hot air". He said: "The Government's policy after the banks' bailout has clearly not reached the credit card sector. It has done nothing to clamp down on credit card ownership – particularly by the most vulnerable people."

Industry leaders have been summoned to another meeting with Mr Thomas on Thursday.

Apacs, the UK payments association, denied interest-rate rises were the problem. "Risk-based pricing is not about the base rate at all," said a spokeswoman. "This is about a customer with a card whose APR may go up as a consequence of changes to their circumstances. It is a feature of credit cards that the interest on this unsecured borrowing may be adjusted. If the customer can't pay, the provider has no security on getting the money back and may decide to re-price the cost of using the card. The agreements that were made [at the summit] were about breathing space for customers in difficulty."

Critics of the move believe a half-hearted approach will make little difference to consumers. Martin Lewis, of Moneysavingexpert.com, said: "This ultimatum is absolute nonsense, and shows that Lord Mandelson has never had any connection to credit cards in his life. Is he saying that credit card companies should drop their interest rates in line with the base rate drop, from an average of 18 per cent to one of 15 per cent? To make this work they would actually have to cut their interest rates by 60 per cent to mirror the real changes in the base rate, so if even if every credit card on the market took 3 per cent off their interest rates it would mean nothing."

Credit and store card companies have long been accused of employing dirty tricks to boost income. The order of payments is regularly skewed so that the most expensive debt, with the highest interest rate, is paid off last.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
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

    Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Execution Trader

    £30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global Rolling Spot FX, Comm...

    Citifocus Ltd: ACA - Financial Reporting

    £Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Chartered accountant (ACA or CPA), must be...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game