Citizens Advice calls for credit card crackdown. The City watchdog should listen
A code of conduct promoted by the Financial Conduct Authority doesn't go far enough
It’s November, so on planet retail that means it’s Christmas time.
ITV’s ad revenues have been dismal through most of the year, but the company says they’re picking up as shops push the boat out with lavishly funded campaigns in a bid to tempt shoppers.
Chances are they'll do the trick despite the continuing fall in living standards. If advertising didn't work, companies wouldn't spend so much on it.
With living standards falling, people are inevitably going to resort to their flexible friends to cover the cost, and worry about paying for it later.
Banks have been doing their utmost to facilitate this. They've been merrily raising people's card limits without first bothering to ask, or checking if they can afford any extra borrowing.
According to Citizens Advice a staggering 8.4m people, more than one in four card holders, received raises in the last 12 months. Less than one of four of those people actually asked for them. The rest were initiated by their lenders.
Having commissioned ComRes to conduct a survey of 2033 adults, the charity says it’s concerned that borrowers who aren’t confident that they can pay their current debts appear more likely to have been given yet more credit (32 per cent) than those that are (23 per cent).
Its intervention with the poll data is well timed as we approach the annual festive blow out. An awful lot of people are going to enter the New Year facing a far more painful financial hangover than anything they will have experienced through the over use of alcohol during the holiday period.
Bigger credit limits mean bigger bills, and at a time when pay packets are shrinking in real terms, that equals pain.
The Financial Conduct Authority has, it’s true, has been looking at the issue. What has emerged is a code of conduct. Under it, new card customers will be asked for consent before limits are raised. After that they will be given the option of receiving uninvited increases if they want them. As for existing customers, they will be given the option of asking their lender to require their consent.
Citizens Advice, by contrast, argues for something simpler: A blanket ban on all unsolicited increases so that people have to approach their banks to ask for extra.
The likely result of such a policy, which is a lot tidier than the FCA's code, is that people would end up borrowing less because a lot of those who today get their credit limits unilaterally increased, and borrow on them purely because the money is there, wouldn't ask.
The banks are none too keen on the idea because they profit handsomely from people being in debt. But it would result in fewer desperate people calling on Citizens Advice for help when their debts spiral out of control.
The charity is at the sharp end when people borrow too much and things go wrong. Its people see the misery that is caused. So perhaps the regulator, and Chancellor Philiip Hammond for that matter, should pay heed to what it is saying.