The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has today announced proposals which would provide continued support for users of certain consumer credit products, who are facing a financial impact because of the exceptional circumstances arising from coronavirus.
The proposals outline the support firms would be expected to provide credit card and other revolving credit (store card and catalogue credit) and personal loan customers coming to an end of a payment freeze, as well as those who are yet to request one.
For customers yet to request a payment freeze or an arranged interest-free overdraft of up to £500, the time to apply for one would be extended until 31 October 2020.
For those who have already taken up support and are still experiencing temporary payment difficulties due to coronavirus, firms would continue to offer support with options including a further payment deferral or reducing payments to an amount the customer can afford for a further three months.
Christopher Woolard, Interim Chief Executive at the FCA, said:
‘We have been working closely with other authorities, lenders and debt charities to support consumers in the current emergency. The proposals we’ve announced today would provide an expected minimum level of financial support for consumers who remain in, or enter, temporary financial difficulty due to coronavirus. Where consumers can afford to make payments, it is in their best long-term interest to do so, but for those who need help, it will be there.’
The proposals include:
- At the end of a payment freeze, firms should contact their customers to find out if they can resume payments – and if so, agree a plan on how the missed payments could be repaid. If customers can afford to return to regular repayment it is in their best interest to do so.
- Anyone who continues to need help gets help – for customers still facing temporary payment difficulties as a result of coronavirus, firms should provide them with support by reducing payments on their credit card and personal loans to a level they can afford for 3 months.
- Support for overdraft customers – allowing customers who are negatively impacted by coronavirus and who already have an arranged overdraft on their main personal current account, to request up to £500 interest-free for a further 3 months, and providing further support in the form of lower interest rates on borrowing above the interest-free buffer and repayment plans for those who would benefit from them.
- Extending the time the scheme is available to people who may be impacted at a later date – customers that have not yet had a payment freeze or an arranged interest-free overdraft of up to £500 and experience temporary financial difficulty, due to coronavirus, would be able to request one up until 31 October 2020.
- Where a customer needs further temporary support to bridge the crisis, any payment freezes or partial payment freezes offered under this guidance should not have a negative impact on credit files. However, consumers should remember that credit files aren’t the only source of information which lenders can use to assess creditworthiness.
When implementing this guidance, firms should be particularly aware of the needs of their vulnerable customers and should consider how they engage with them. Firms should also help customers understand the types of debt help and money guidance that are available and encourage them to access the resources that can help them.
In April, the FCA set a temporary general expectation across the market that firms should ensure all overdraft customers are no worse off on price when compared to the prices they were charged before the recent overdraft rule changes came into force (those changes benefitted most customers). The FCA does not propose to extend this temporary measure across the whole market. However, overdraft customers who are financially impacted by coronavirus will continue to be able to request a reduced interest rate on any additional borrowing in excess of £500. The FCA will continue to monitor overdraft pricing.
The FCA welcomes comments on these proposals until 5pm on 22 June 2020 and expects to finalise the guidance shortly afterwards.
This guidance only applies to credit cards and other retail revolving credit, such as store cards and catalogue credit, personal loans and overdrafts.
It does not apply to other consumer credit products, such as motor finance, high-cost short-term credit, rent-to-own, pawnbroking and buy-now pay-later, which are covered by separate guidance which will be updated soon.