Will the new government help people with debt?

Just over a year ago I had the opportunity to meet both Gordon Brown and David Cameron in the House of Commons. Although the meetings were short they gave me enough time to voice my concerns about the number of consumers suffering from unmanageable debt.

So when the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats released their election manifestos in mid-April I took time out to scrutinise them to see what help would be on offer for people struggling with debt. Unfortunately, they all made somewhat disappointing reading.

The Liberal Democrats only had three aims under their ‘consumer issues' heading.

One is to legislate against unfair bank and financial transaction charges; the second is to improve access to banking for all with a PostBank and the third, to impose maximum interest rates for credit cards and store cards.

The last proposal will involve consultation with the personal finance industry as well as consumer groups and would need to account for fluctuating interest rates - not a simple task - and all it will do is spread the cost to consumers. None of the proposals will help those already with unmanageable debt.

In the meantime, Labour says it will create a People’s Bank at the Post Office, offering a full range of competitive and affordable credit products. It will also give all consumers with a valid address the legal right to a basic bank account and a right to redress if this is refused. Most banks refuse accounts to those with fraud convictions, or those who are undischarged bankrupts.

It adds it will clamp down on the interest rates and other fees charged by instant loan companies and payday or doorstep lenders, tackling the very high cost lending that hits low-income communities hardest.

Next, Labour will introduce a single regulator for consumer finance to restore confidence and trust, with responsibility for the supervision of all unsecured lending being passed to the Financial Services Authority.

One point worthy of note, Labour will make ‘the Savings Gateway account’ for people on lower incomes available to over eight million families from July 2010, providing 50p for every £1 saved up to a limit of £300. In my view, this will encourage consumers to save and will help towards people avoiding dropping into debt. 

I put Labour’s manifesto for consumers with debts ahead of the Liberal Democrats, but still no help for those with unmanageable debts.

Now onto the Conservatives. Under their ‘Tackling poverty & inequality’, they would look to ban excessive interest rates on store cards, and launch Britain’s first free national financial advice service. But will this include debt advice? I doubt it.

They will also introduce a seven-day cooling off period for store cards, which is welcomed.

Other proposals would be to require credit card companies to provide clearer information; this is coming anyway but could be improved.

My suggestion would be to highlight the following sentence on credit card applications and monthly statements: "If you fail to pay your credit card bill and are a house owner then we may take you to court and put this debt on your house."

The Tories will also ensure that no-one is forced to sell their home to pay unsecured debts of less than £25,000. At the moment, any lender can change the status of an unsecured debt - such as credit or store card, personal loan or overdraft - and even catalogue debts to secured by applying to the court for a county court judgement, commonly known as a CCJ.

Once issued, the lender can then apply for the charging order to secure the debt. This can be contested by the borrower, but if the charging order is granted by the court then the debt becomes a priority and becomes secured on the property. Non-payment of this debt can lead to having the house repossessed, so for the time being, the Tories clinch it for this proposal alone.

Although some of the measures proposed by each of the parties will benefit certain consumers, what is worrying is there is no real help for those who need to resolve their current debts.

To give an indication of the size of the debt problem for consumers, here are some staggering statistics supplied by Credit Action early this April:

* 390 people today will be declared insolvent or bankrupt - this is one person every 3.69 minutes

* 2,000 CCJs were issued every day in the first three months of 2009

* 126 properties were repossessed every day during 2009

* 219 mortgage possession claims are issued and 185 mortgage possession orders are made each day

• 1,000 people a day are seeking to enter into some form of debt resolution with their lenders, and the Citizens Advice Bureau is dealing with just under 10,000 new debt cases every day

So what would I like to see done by the political parties? In my book, we need:

1.    More protection from debt collectors and lenders for consumers who are in debt. Upon notification from any appropriately licensed debt management company or debt adviser, including debt charities, that the debtor is seeking advice on their debts then no action can be taken for a period of two months from the date of notification. This will enable a way forward to be planned, which in the long term will benefit the lender as there will be no recovery and tracing costs.

2.    To ensure high standards and a quality service I’d like to see a requirement, similar to that in place for mortgage selling, for debt advisers to be professionally qualified.

3.    Effective self-regulation of the debt management industry under the beady eye of the Office of Fair Trading or similar body, or full regulation.

4.    Statutory debt management plans offering borrowers protection from unsupporting creditors or debt recovery agents with interest and other charges frozen and in certain circumstances debt relief on these plans.

5.    The re-introduction of Simplified Individual Voluntary Arrangements (SIVAs), which will replace the current IVA where 75% of the lenders have to agree to it, to being based on a simple majority.

Your Comments

strategies put forward are good.my view point as a person in and out of debt for about twenty years and about to be released is when i got fed up being in debt from beginning of 2009.2010 is the year of planning and not going without as much.i continually had to face facts that i was recommended to go bankrupt 15,000 debt reduced to now 6,000 after five years without bankruptcy,debt refief or debt management plans. paying over the minimum for credit cards,storecards, allowing two ccjs and debt companies to take on the debt i.e frederickson, lewis debt recovery etc. when one debt is finished put the same amount onto the next highest or the one which carries the highest interest or the one who's debt will finish in three/four months time. this gives you more hope when fifteen bills become fourteen etc.also pay through online banking i.e standing order and cancel standing order when debt is finished.even on single persons unemployment benefit i negotiated with all fifteen creditors to pay 1-2 pounds per debt for three months and looked for a job.what you do not have you cannot give. Your essential out goings does not include holiday,presents for christmas, who are you trying to impress anyway,they all know your broke,it does not mean never doing something, find the cheapest way to shop,eat .it,s difficult i know i barely have fifty pounds to last till payday after housing,council tax, debt repayments,tv license, but i know that i can make it and so can you.
debt can pull you down emotionally,physically and socially but this needn't be you.take heart listen to advice,be honest with creditors,don't be afraid of ccj's,your c rating will be spoiled anyway if you don't make regular repayments for at least minimum amounts so it's 5-6 years on your report so you might as well make regular payments for five/six years anyway.