12 Oct 2018

Debtors: Govt missed chance to end loan shark industry

10:10 am on 12 October 2018

Porirua residents falling into a spiral of debt are calling out on the government to end predatory lenders once and for all.

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Commerce Commission says it has received 93 complaints against high-cost, short-term lenders in the past two financial years. Photo: 123RF

The government has announced a crackdown on lenders, with plans to cap chargeable interest and fees on high-cost loans, tougher penalties for rule breakers and requiring lenders to pass a 'fit and proper' person test.

The Commerce Commission said it has received 93 complaints against high-cost, short-term lenders in the past two financial years.

But it said the number of complaints did not show the extent of the problem.

It said it continued to see lenders failing to comply with responsible lending principles, putting many borrowers at risk of hardship.

The commission said a number of investigations were underway.

The Commission also recently began High Court proceedings against payday lender Ferratum over alleged breaches of the lender responsibility principles.

Nearly 40 percent of the city's population are considered to live socio-economic deprivation, according to the last census.

Truck shops are a familiar sight in Porirua, north of Wellington, with several finance companies all within a few minutes walking distance of each other.

One Porirua woman in debt, who didn't want to be named, said she got trapped into a vicious cycle of debt despite having a job as well as her partner.

"I had to move for starters, you know, then other things happened, rent went up and so me and [my partner] had to move back home, to the parents and stuff like that, so just trying to live day by day."

She said getting a loan was the only way out they could see.

"And it's not like we spend our money on rubbish or anything like that. It's just getting from here to home, to contribute to home, school for kids... I can't say at the top of my head - maybe $10k in interest."

The woman said the government's move was overdue and did not go far enough.

"Shut down these bloody loan companies. I mean how easy is it? They say to you within 60 seconds you loan can be approved. Of course somebody's going to go for that if they need the money," she said.

"Shut them down, I don't think they need to be there."

Another Porirua woman said it was unacceptable people had to go to these companies just to make ends meet, but many did not have a choice.

"This is the only place they can go [to] for most of our families and being low-income, beneficiaries. I mean because they can't go to the banks - cause of credit, bad credit," she said.

"A lot of families would like to provide for their children you know like trips, school trips, camps, clothing, toys, outings."

Pakuranga and Howick Budgeting Service budget advisor Adrienne Gallie said there was also money lending happening from high-cost lenders for food.

Predatory lenders have long been overlooked and the Government's planned crack down did not go far enough, she said.

"I'm appalled by it and that's why i was really hoping that the Government would use this opportunity to do massive robust, bold reform and actually close down the pay lending industry," she said.

"I don't think we need it in New Zealand, and it's a bit of a indictment if they're saying people need it for cashflow."

One of Ms Gallie's clients, a solo mother-of-two originally from the Philippines, works two jobs to keep on top of her rent and debt.

The client said she ended up owing $30,000 through loans her husband took out to buy a television and a bed.

They're no longer together but she said she was still paying the debt back at $200 a week.

"It's hard and of course I'm not used to having debt since I was born, but then when I come here I get heaps of debt and I don't have my family here so it's very difficult."

However, Minister of Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi yesterday told Morning Report that enforcing a limit on how much people could borrow was not necessary.

"I think that's going a step too far," he said. "We've got to put in some measures that across the board protect these vulnerable consumers and making sure that we can cap it at a decent amount to make sure that it doesn't spiral out of control is what we've seen fit to do."

Mr Faafoi said about 200,000 people borrow from high-cost credit lenders each year.

About one in eight default and spiral into debt, he said.

"I would like to see that number reduce significantly when these changes come into force," Mr Faafoi said.

The new restrictions follow a review of changes made to the Credit, Contracts and Consumer Finance Act in 2015, which the government said did not go far enough.

Financial Services Federation executive director Lyn McMorran said none of their members charged anywhere near the loan interest caps proposed by the government.

She said members would not be affected by a 100 percent interest cap, who usually charge up to 30 percent for higher risk borrowers.

"A recent investigation the Commerce Commission did found lenders changing 830 percent per annum and our members are not changing anything like those sorts of interest rates," she said.

She hoped the new rules would send those who did not follow the federation's code of conduct out of business.

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