Simon Read: This kind of lending isn't always bad – but it can be disastrous for the vulnerable

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The Independent Online

Calls to regulate pay-day loans are timely, especially with this Christmas set to be the toughest for years for many hard-up families. The temptation to turn to expensive short-term credit can be strong when cash is tight. But for some people it can be disastrous.

Yet that doesn't mean pay-day loans should be outlawed. The fact is that they can be a convenient way to get emergency money for some people.

For those folk who know they can afford to pay them back by the deadline and are happy to pay the premium, a pay-day loan can not only be useful, it could actually save them money, even taking account of the shockingly high fees some charge.

That's because the alternative – going into the red at your bank – could be even more expensive. Borrow £100 through a pay-day lender for a month and you may have to pay £30 for the privilege. Go into the red at your bank and you could easily pay much more than that.

That's not to defend the proliferation of pay-day loans. If they are used irresponsibly, the costs will tot up very quickly into a spiral of debt, the consequences of which can be much worse than borrowing through a high-street bank.

That's why there should be a cap on how much money the pay-day lenders can demand. If borrowers don't pay back the loans within a set period, lenders should not be allowed to add more and more charges.

Otherwise, some people can be left facing debt disaster, where they soon end up owing more in payments than they actually earn. In cases where people can't afford to pay, the debt should be frozen and an affordable repayment schedule agreed.

The pay-day lenders have a moral responsibility to ensure their deals don't cause disaster to people. They should shoulder that along with their legal right to chase repayment of a loan.

We also need stronger controls on the sales and marketing of pay-day loans. They should not be allowed to be flogged as "easy money" or be used to tempt people to overspend and fall into out-of-control debt. They should be allowed to be offered only as emergency cash – and nothing else.