James Moore: Shine a light on the dark side of credit

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The Independent Online

Outlook Even if the banks really do open the lending taps in the New Year, as they claim they have been doing during the past year despite all evidence to the contrary, they will continue to be cautious. That's probably no bad thing.

What it does mean, though, is that large groups of people who were able to obtain credit prior to the crunch, are going to be forced into the arms of less savoury operations (yes they do exist) in the aftermath.

Little attention will be paid to these people during the next year or so because they aren't the middle-class voters in swing seats who will decide the next election, a consequence of our backwards voting system.

That is a shame. Some work has been done on this issue by, for example, the Competition Commission although its "behavioural remedies" imposed on door-to-door lenders such as Provident Financial did not go as far as some would have liked.

But since then the market has changed and grown. One striking consequence has been the rise of the pawn shop chains, H&T Group and Albemarle & Bond. Partly, their success has been driven by the current consumer craze for selling gold thanks to the sky high price. But their booming earnings are also due to their operation in the field of providing credit at high rates to people who find it difficult to get it from more traditional organisations.

And it's not only pawn brokers – legitimate if not exactly pleasant operations – that will thrive in this market if they are allowed to. There are too many genuinely nasty "businesses" lurking in the shadows. This is a debate that needs to be had, and with some urgency. Because if the issue of getting credit to "sub prime" consumers remains in the shadows, so will the horror stories.