The Government is to give the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) the power to suspend a consumer credit licence with immediate effect where there is an urgent need to protect the interest of consumers. Currently the OFT has the power to suspend or revoke a consumer credit licence but businesses can appeal this decision. Firms are able to continue trading during the appeal period, which can last for up to two years. Consumers can suffer significant harm during this time.
The power will be introduced by an amendment to the Financial Services Bill at Committee stage in the House of Lords.
Consumer Affairs Minister, Norman Lamb, said:
“This will put a stop to those companies who exploit vulnerable consumers whilst dragging matters through a slow legal process. It will also give a boost to legitimate businesses, with the swift suspension of unscrupulous traders.
“The new measure is part of a concerted approach to strengthen protection around consumer credit, including issues such as payday lending and debt management. We want to encourage, and give the tools to, consumers to take sensible decisions.”
Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, said:
“Today’s announcement sends a very strong signal that the OFT will crackdown immediately on firms that exploit borrowers. The Government has acted by strengthening the powers of the OFT and by moving the regulation of consumer credit to the FCA which will have a much broader range of powers to tackle lenders that break the rules.”
The new power will ensure that the OFT remains an effective regulator across the interim period before the handling of credit regulation is due to pass to the new Financial Conduct Authority in April 2014. There has been widespread support for stronger powers for the OFT. The BIS Select Committee called for a fast-track procedure for licence suspension in its report on debt management in March 2012.
The OFT intends to consult in the autumn on how it will use this power, publishing guidance in early 2013 before the power comes into effect.
Notes to editors
1. The Government's economic policy objective is to achieve 'strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is more evenly shared across the country and between industries.' It set four ambitions in the ‘Plan for Growth’ (PDF 1.7MB), published at Budget 2011:
- To create the most competitive tax system in the G20
- To make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business
- To encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy
- To create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.
Work is underway across Government to achieve these ambitions, including progress on more than 250 measures as part of the Growth Review. Developing an Industrial Strategy gives new impetus to this work by providing businesses, investors and the public with more clarity about the long-term direction in which the Government wants the economy to travel.
2. BIS's online newsroom contains the latest press notices and speeches, as well as video and images for download. It also features an up to date list of BIS press office contacts. See http://www.bis.gov.uk/newsroom for more information.