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Rogue payday lenders and unscrupulous credit firms face instant shutdown as OFT is handed tougher powers
By JOANNA ROBINSON
PUBLISHED: 17:25 GMT, 19 July 2012 | UPDATED: 17:25 GMT, 19 July 2012
The Government is to give the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) new powers to suspend a consumer credit licence with immediate effect.
It follows outrage from consumer groups after companies that have been censured for breaking the rules are allowed to continue operating.
The most high-profile case was Yes Loans, which charged would-be borrowers up to £70 for loans that they would never be offered.
The new measure will help the OFT clamp down on rogue companies that provide any goods or services around credit, lend money, collect debts or help people with debt problems – like payday lenders and debt management firms.
The new power, which will come into effect in early 2013, allows the regulator to act fast when consumers need urgent protection.
The move, announced by Consumer Affairs Minister Norman Lamb and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban, comes in response to growing concerns that these rogue firms can continue trading despite the decision to revoke their licence being a clear indication that the regulator thinks they are unfit to operate.
Currently the OFT has the power to suspend or revoke a consumer credit licence, but businesses can appeal this decision and can continue to trade during the appeal period, which in some cases can last up to two years.
This move will put a stop to those companies who exploit vulnerable consumers whilst dragging matters through a slow legal process’ said Mr Lamb. ‘It will also give a boost to legitimate businesses, with the swift suspension of unscrupulous traders.’
He said the new measure was part of a ‘concerted approach to strengthen protection around consumer credit, including issues such as payday lending and debt management.’
In March this year the Office of Fair Trading revoked broker Yes Loans credit licence due to ‘deceitful and oppressive business practices’.
The firm targeted low credit-rated customers who were desperate for credit and took £50-70 in upfront fees with the promise of finding them a loan.
But many customers heard nothing back after handing over the fee or were offered a loan which was substantially different to the one they were first quoted.
It also encouraged customers to take out expensive short-term loans – rather than products they had initially asked about – and misled them into believing it was a loan provider rather than a credit broker.
Despite deciding not to appeal the OFT’s decision, Yes Loans and sister company Blue Sky Personal Finance were able to continue trading for at least 28 days after their licences were revoked.
YES LOANS: ONE EXAMPLE OF A SHUT DOWN COMPANY
Yes Loans first came to the attention of Thisismoney.co.uk / MailOnline Money in 2008 when readers began complaining on the website’s messageboard, HERE. As the response snowballed it became obvious there was a major problem with Yes Loans’ practices. Since then the website has advised readers to stay away from Yes and similar firms and campaigned for the watchdog to take action:
16 July 2009: Yes Loans criticised by watchdog
10 June 2010: Beware Yes Loans!
17 June 2011: Payday loans warning – 5 credit catches to avoid
Richard Lloyd, executive director, at Which? said: ‘Our research has found that people taking out payday loans are often caught in a downward spiral of debt so it is important that the Office of Fair Trading will have the power to instantly suspend the credit licences of unscrupulous lenders caught breaking the existing rules.’
Sarah Brooks, Director of Financial Services for Consumer Focus said: ‘Companies under threat of losing their consumer credit licence have no incentive to improve their behaviour and some use the appeal process to gain more time to cash in at their customers’ expense. Often it is the most vulnerable consumers who lose out the most.
‘It isn’t often that the regulator resorts to taking away licences, but it is a vital tool to have if it feels firms are not playing fair with their customers. Where there is clear consumer detriment it is crucial for the regulator to have the power to step in right away.’