Credit curbs urged as man owing £70,000 kills himself

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The Independent Online

MPs called for a crackdown on Britain's easy credit regime, after a father killed himself because he had amassed debts of £70,000 on more than a dozen credit cards.

Stephen Lewis, 37, was allowed to take out multiple cards from companies, including the high street banks Lloyds TSB, Barclays and NatWest, despite earning £22,000 a year. He hanged himself on 28 July.

Susan Lewis, his widow, from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, who is being pursued by one bank for some of the outstanding debt, said her husband had received frequent letters and phone calls from providers leading up to his death. Yesterday, she called on the Government to cap the amount individuals can borrow.

John Mann, Mr Lewis's local MP, said he had been deluged by people who have contacted him about similar situations, after he made his former constituent's case public to press for better regulations on credit cards. He said: "I am getting case after case being sent to me of people who have not been able to cope with their debts and the credit card company is still pursuing the [Lewis] family. This is a question of morality and should never be repeated." Mr Mann said the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the owner of NatWest, which made record profits of £6.1bn last year, was seeking repayment of £500 of the money owed. RBS said it was dealing with Mr Lewis's lawyers, but said it was "confident the matter has been satisfactorily resolved".

The case of Mr Lewis will increase pressure on the Government to force credit card providers to be more responsible about unsecured lending, a lucrative part of their business which has fuelled bumper profits this year. Providers have been particularly criticised for setting low minimum repayment rates because, as in the case of Mr Lewis, it can lead to customers getting deep into debt but then being unable to repay little more than the interest on the loan.

John McFall, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said: "Companies will have an obligation to look at Mr Lewis's case and to prevent people from plunging into debt." Mr Mann said he was pressing for banks to send out a statement once a year to customers, detailing their debts to give them a clear picture of the state of their finances.

A consolidated debt statement would require credit card providers to work more closely together, which would help to prevent people from taking out large numbers of credit cards.

The Office of Fair Trading released figures yesterday showing that loans amounting to more than £40bn were taken out in 2002 by consumers who wanted to consolidate multiple debts into one large loan.