Payday lenders ‘still failing to carry out credit checks’ on borrowers

Gillian Guy
Gillian Guy

Some payday lenders are still failing to carry out basic checks to make sure borrowers can afford to pay back their loans, new Citizens Advice research has uncovered.

Over a quarter of payday loan borrowers (27 per cent) who responded to a survey by Citizens Advice said they were not, or could not remember being asked any questions about their financial situation or ability to repay when taking out a loan.

Those who did not go through credit checks were nearly twice as likely to have trouble repaying their loan as those who did remember having checks, the charity says.

Meanwhile, a quarter (27 per cent) of local Citizens Advice advisors said inadequate credit checks were the biggest cause of problems to the people they help with payday loans.

In a new report, Citizens Advice investigates the state of payday lending since the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) introduced a cap on payday loan interest rates and fees in January 2015.

Since then Citizens Advice has helped people with 45 per cent fewer payday loan problems - from a monthly average of 2,821 issues pre-cap to 1,534 afterwards. Citizens Advice also finds that since October 2013 nearly 40 per cent of payday loan firms have left the market.

Despite this, the charity finds that some payday lenders are flouting the FCA’s responsible lending guidance, which says firms must take “reasonable steps” to make sure customers can meet repayments without experiencing financial difficulty.

Citizens Advice helped one 33-year-old man who was granted a payday loan following checks despite suffering from depression and alcoholism, having no permanent address, being previously declared bankrupt and having only benefit income.

The new evidence is based on a survey of more than 400 people who have attempted to use payday loans since January 2015. The report finds that half of these borrowers are still getting into difficulty paying back their loans. This increases when looking just at people who did not go through credit checks with 78 per cent getting into difficulty compared to 40 per cent who did have checks.

Those surveyed are still finding it easy to get a payday loan, with 98 per cent of people saying this. People said online and phone applications were easy methods - with few requiring credit checks. In some cases people assumed credit checks were being carried out but were not always certain.

The report also highlights new methods being used to collect payments from people’s accounts. Citizens Advice found a number cases where a payday lender asked people to share their internet banking details including login, password and memorable characters so a lender could directly access their account and adjust funds without advance permission from the borrower.

The charity helped one woman who was asked to share her online bank details when taking out a £180 payday loan. Her lender went on to add additional loans into her account every time her balance dropped below £50, or to take a loan repayment when the account had more funds.

Citizens Advice supports the FCA’s measures to crack down on payday lenders and recognises that there have been significant improvements within the market.  But believes there is an opportunity to go further in tightening its rules on lending - forcing all firms to carry out rigorous checks on people’s finances before agreeing new loans. This would require lenders - at the very least - to find out how much potential borrowers earn and spend before approving their applications.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Irresponsible behaviour by some payday lenders is trapping people with loans they can’t afford.

“New measures and guidelines from the FCA have helped to clean up the market and the number of people turning to us for help has dropped significantly. But it’s clear some payday loan firms are flouting the FCA’s guidance and selling people loans costing hundreds of pounds that they struggle to pay back.

“The time has come for the FCA to turn its guidance into rules - forcing every single payday lender to carry out rigorous financial checks on potential borrowers to prevent people falling into deepening debt.”

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