Since the FCA introduced price cap regulation back in 2015, there have been changes in the short-term credit market.
The latest Social Market Foundation (SMF) report commissioned by the CFA (Consumer Finance Association) offers the latest assessment on the impact of price cap regulation on the short-term credit market in the UK with a special focus on cost as well as access to loans. The report contains information gathered from industry data as well as short-term credit consumers in the UK.
Considering 6.8 million UK households still live below the poverty line, a significant number of UK households rely on credit. Changing employment and work patterns as well as state benefit changes have also resulted in income instability which has, in turn, increased dependence on credit. Rising inflation and housing costs have also increased the need for short-term credit in the UK.
Let’s not forget the poor saving habits in the UK. A previous SMF research study shows that 40% of UK citizens have less than a week’s worth of income as savings. With this in mind, the health of the UK short-term credit market can’t be overlooked since most people with financial difficulties turn to short-term loans. Considering the FCA price cap regulation is the latest and most significant UK credit market event, how is the market now?
What has changed?
1. Cost of loans
According to the latest SMF report commissioned by the CFA and produced independently by the SMF, the cost of loans has fallen significantly. The latest industry data shows that the cost of loans has reduced by from 1.3% (in 2013) to 0.7% currently. In a nutshell, loans cost less now. It gets better! Loans are cheaper than the 0.8% initial cost cap set by the FCA which is an indication of healthy competition in the industry.
2. Default fees
Industry data also shows that default fees have fallen. The proportion of short-term loan on which borrowers pay additional over and above contractual interest has halved from 16% back in 2013 to 8% currently. In cases where loans are subject to default fees, the total amount of fees including interest charged after default has dropped from £45 to £24. However, concerns linger on whether the fees are still high considering they represent approximately 10% of the value of most short-term loans taken in the UK.
3. Borrower perceptions and experiences
According to the latest SMF survey, consumer perceptions have improved on affordability. Consumers are of the notion that short-term loans have become affordable. 56% of recent borrowers agree that short term loans have become more affordable. Only 43% of borrowers who took out short term loans before 2015 believed they were affordable. Although there are consumers who insist that loans haven’t become affordable, a majority of such opinions can be attributed to the fact that some borrowers assess affordability based on their own ability to service loans.
In regards to experience, most people (90%) feel short term loans are the most convenient source of short-term credit today. Some concerns have however been expressed on repayment. Approximately 20% of all recent borrowers today state that they have problems repaying short-term loans as planned or in time.
4. The size of the short-term credit market (Number of loans sold)
The latest industry data shows that the number of loans sold decreased significantly over the January 2016 to April 2016 period. The loans taken during this time were 42% lower compared to the same period in 2013. Industry experts attribute the fall to a decreasing number of lenders during this period. Many short term loan lenders exited the market between January and April 2016 after finding it extremely difficult to operate in the confines of the new price cap regulation.
5. Access to loans
The FCA had predicted that the regulation would exclude some consumers from the short term credit market more so, lower income individuals. This prediction is consistent with industry figures. The SMF report suggests that access has become restricted. An SMF survey shows that consumers are of the notion that it has become harder to obtain loans. 57% of all consumers who have taken loans before and after the regulation changes state that short term loans have become more difficult to access.
The SMF survey, however, shows that only 16% of people who have tried accessing loans before the regulation, not afterwards, have been denied loans. This is against 18% who haven’t bothered to take loans after the new regulation just because they thought they wouldn’t qualify.
Many consumers still find access to loans important for essentials or avoiding other borrowing channels such as borrowing from family members and friends. According to the SMF survey, 27% of consumers risk going without essentials if they don’t get access to short-term loans. The survey also reveals that 37% of consumers are forced to pursue other credit channels such as borrowing from family and friends if they don’t access credit despite this option being the least reliable and suitable for many.
The rest are forced to cut back on spending, misappropriate funds or rely on alternative or mainstream credit which comes at a higher cost. Some customers also resort to borrowing from unlicensed lenders when they fail to secure funding from licensed short-term credit lenders.
In a nutshell, the new regulation may have reduced the cost of loans and default fees as well as improved consumer perceptions, however, access to credit has shrunk, and the hardest hit borrowers are low-income individuals. Although the regulation stops exploitation by lenders, which was a huge problem especially in the payday loan industry, some borrowers are being forced into the hands of unlicensed lenders. This is contrary to the FCA’s previous conclusion that the new regulation would be a good thing to low-income borrowers.
The price cap appears to have reduced unscrupulous lending practices among licensed lenders, but there is an increasing number of borrowers turning to unlicensed lenders giving rise to worse problems. Unscrupulous (unlicensed) lenders don’t have to work as hard as before to attract borrowers since access to short-term credit has shrunk among the lower income borrowers. Short term credit lenders in the UK have stricter affordability assessments today which have reduced the number of loans being offered to individuals who are deemed high risk.