Charity warns of payday loan risks

A debt advice charity has seen almost 16,500 people approach it this year with problems linked to payday loan debt - with more than 2,000 of them struggling with five of these loans or more.

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) said it is on course to see a record number of people this year, having assisted almost 17,500 clients last year and just under 6,500 in 2009.

Such loans are intended as a short-term stop gap to tide people over for a few weeks but the charity said that 173 people it has seen this year have 10 or more of them.

The typical amount owed on payday loans has increased by almost a quarter in the last three years to reach £1,458, which is roughly equal to the monthly average income for a CCCS client.

The charity fears that the figures could climb higher still as hikes in fuel bills and food costs push more households towards seeking out "crocodile help".

Peter Tutton, the advice service's head of policy, said: "We would expect payday lenders to tell people there are better options rather than feeding into that and offering crocodile help. We need payday lenders to get on top of responsible lending."

Short-term lenders announced improved codes of practice in July which included commitments to stepping up transparency and carrying out affordability assessments to make sure people can pay back loans.

The charter was agreed by four trade associations representing more than 90% of the payday and short-term loan industry and members must abide by the code or ultimately face expulsion.

But consumer groups said the code was largely a rebrand of rules that have already been flouted and stricter action should follow if big improvements are not seen.

Firms have come under fire for giving people loans which turn out to be unaffordable, rolling over loans and charging annual interest rates running to several thousand per cent.