Credit Reforms Responsible Lending Bill

Labour List MP Charles Chauvel has submitted to the ballot a private members bill – credit-reforms-responsible-lending-bill.

It does four things:

  1. allow pawn brokers to charge administration fees, thereby removing any need for high interest rates
  2. require lenders to seriously consider the actual means of a prospective borrower and their ability to service the debt
  3. allow for the prescription of maximum annual percentage rates of interest payable in respect of consumer credit contracts
  4. restrict the right for a creditor to recover from a debtor any amount beyond the value of the goods sold subject to a security agreement.

Taking each in turn

Pawn Broker Admin Fees

I’m not sure what the original rationale for pawn brokers not being able to charge an admin fee, but seems to me flexibility is a good thing.

Lenders to assess ability of borrowers to service debt

I should start off by saying that I am well aware there are many very scummy companies that exploit people with cashflow problems by taking advantage of their desperation to get them to agree to loans that with compounding interest are crippling.

But I am hesitant about putting the burden of assessment on the lender, rather than the person borrowing the money. The borrower does have some responsibility themselves to judge their own capacity to replay. And you could end up with a lot of uncertainity as to what steps lenders must take to assess repayment. I don’t see this as being practical or necessarily desirable – lenders do have an incentive already to check repayment ability – so they can get repaid.

Maximum rates of interest

The proposal is that the Reserve Bank Governor can set a maximum rate of interest for borrowing. This is well intentioned but may have unintentional side effects. Let’s say you can currently get unsecured borrowing from scummy lenders for between 35% and 75% interest. And let us say the Reserve Bank says that the maximum you can charge os 50%. Now yes that will stop money being lent at 75% interest, but may push the 35% rate up to 50%. A ceiling often becomes a target. And you may also get scummy lenderss claiming greater respectability as their interest rates are “approved by the Reserve Bank”.

Creditor Recovery

I’m not quite sure how this clause will work in practice, so will update when I have worked it out. As I understand itm, this is a more minor part of the law change.

I have doubts over the practicality and desirablity of parts of the bill, but neither do I think the current law is working particularly well – many families are getting exploited.

If the bill gets selected from the ballot, I think it should definitely be supported to select committee so they can consider the issues and proposed solutions. Any support beyond that would depend on what changes get made there.

Generally I support most private members bills going to at least select committee for hearings. My exceptions are those that are:

  1. Obnoxious (EFA type laws) and so bad not possible to make into good law.
  2. Directly contrary to the Government’s policy (designed just to score political points)

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