TC050803

TRANSPARENCY OF CREDIT CARD CHARGES:

TREASURY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN PRESSES CREDIT CARD INDUSTRY TO MAKE CHARGES CLEARER

Following oral evidence from credit card issuers in July, the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, John McFall MP, has written to leading issuers calling on them to bring forward specific proposals to improve the clarity with which credit card charges are presented. The main industry body-the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS), which represents all the leading card issuers-has been requested to bring forward proposals agreed by the industry, ahead of a hearing with the 5 main issuers (Barclaycard, HBOS, Lloyds TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland and BNA) in October.

Mr McFall said:

"It was clear to a number of Members of the Committee that consumers at present have little chance of fully understanding the way in which charges on their cards are calculated. As a result, it is difficult to compare different products and-where charges are high-too easy for some cardholders to build up unaffordable debts.

There have been discussions in the industry for some time as to how to address these problems, but not enough has been done. I want the industry to bring specific proposals to the Committee in September, so that we can get a public commitment from the main issuers at a hearing in October to a way forward. I hope this will include the use in promotional and contractual material of a form of 'Schumer Box' giving key information in easily intelligible form, as required in the USA."

This request was discussed and agreed in principle at an evidence hearing on 9 July with APACS (and Nationwide and Barclaycard). Mr McFall has followed this up with a letter on 17 July to APACS and the 5 main issuers. Following a subsequent hearing with store card issuers, Mr McFall has written also to leading issuers of storecards calling for a similar commitment.

For further background see below.

Background:

The Committee has recently  taken oral evidence from consumer groups (1 July), credit card issuers (9 July) and storecard issuers (14 July) as part of its short inquiry into The Transparency of Credit Card Charges. This evidence is available on the Treasury Committee publications website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtreasy.htm#uncorr

These hearings have covered the marketing of cards, and the clarity of presentation (and level) of the interest and other charges payable by card holders.  The evidence has fuelled concerns about the extent to which consumers can make informed comparisons between products and whether cards are being managed in such a way as to lead some consumers into debt.

The Association for Payment Clearing Services, the principal representative body for the credit card industry, indicated in its evidence that the industry was currently discussing how to improve the way in which information was presented. This included looking at the introduction of a requirement for a common way of presenting  the key relevant information in tabular form, along the lines of the 'Schumer Box' required under US legislation for credit card agreements.

Schumer Boxes are a statutory requirement in the USA under the Truth in Lending Act.  They are named after Senator Charles Schumer who led the passage of a bill through the US Congress in 1988.  A Schumer Box draws together all the disclosures spread throughout the small print of a credit agreement into a box format, the idea being that such presentation makes it easy to understand and make comparisons between products.  Schumer Boxes are sometimes known by other titles, including Honesty Boxes; at present, according to evidence given to the Committee, the only such Box in use in the UK is the 'Consumer Box' included in promotional material for cards issued by Nationwide Building Society.

Further contact point:

APACS: Sandra Quinn (Director of Corporate Communications) Tel: 020 7711 6234

Note:

The various organisations from whom evidence has been taken so far are:

Consumer groups:

Consumers Association www.which.net

National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux www.nacab.org.uk

National Consumer Council www.ncc.org.uk

Credit card issuers:

Association for Payment Clearing Services www.apacs.org.uk

Barclaycard www.barclaycard.co.uk

Nationwide www.nationwide.co.uk

Storecard issuers:

GE Capital Bank www.ge.com/capital

Arcadia www.arcadiagroup.co.uk

House of Fraser www.hof.co.uk