Danger consumers lose out shopping around for loans, MPs say
Report calls on OFT, ICO to investigate credit market
The Treasury Committee today (Tuesday 22 December) releases a Report, Credit Searches, which calls on the Office of Fair Trading and the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate the fairness of a part of the credit market. The Report follows an inquiry sparked by concerns that in shopping around for credit, especially for unsecured credit such as personal loans and credit cards, consumers were building up a record of credit application searches on their credit reference files and that high numbers of recorded applications in fact made it harder for them to obtain credit, or affected the rates charged.
John McFall, Chairman of the Committee said:
“Christmas is precisely the time when consumers are likely to be feeling the pinch. Everyone naturally wants to be able to give their loved ones something nice. While it is right to protect consumers from potentially reckless lending; equally, they shouldn’t be penalised for shopping around for loans. We are today calling on the OFT and Information Commissioner to look into the credit market, following an inquiry which sparked concerns amongst the Treasury Committee about just how fairly and openly it is operating.”
The Committee’s inquiry considered a range of evidence, including from members of the public who responded to a call put through web site moneysavingexpert.com to provide examples of their experiences and difficulties obtaining credit, credit search companies themselves, the OFT, ICO and others. The Committee is grateful to all those who contributed.
The Report concludes that there is a fine balance of public interest between ensuring that fraud is prevented and consumers are protected from reckless lending, and ensuring that the market is subject to the disciplines of informed consumer choice. Loan providers have over 400 indicators that they may use to assess suitability; the Committee did not get compelling evidence that application search data is essential. Nor was it presented with overwhelming evidence that making multiple application searches is a major source of direct consumer detriment, although the number of consumers doing this seems likely to rise.
However, the Committee was extremely concerned about the effect of the use of credit searches on market mechanisms, since, in principle, the ability to shop around is not only an important means for consumers to assess the market, but also provides a key discipline on providers.
During the course of the inquiry the Committee heard about some solutions which could reduce the adverse effects of the use of credit application search data in credit reference files; it considers that any acceptable solution must strike an appropriate balance between minimising fraud and over-borrowing and ensuring the market is subject to normal market disciplines. It recommends that the OFT look at this.