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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
MPs grill credit card providers
Credit card image
Credit card debts carry high interest payments
UK banking chiefs are being grilled by MPs over the credit card industry's failure to protect people from falling into debt.

Chief executives of Lloyds TSB, HBOS and Capital One are being quizzed as to their progress over making credit card charges more transparent and fair.

MPs heard how one man was thought to have committed suicide after building up a 15,000 credit card debt

He was allowed to borrow from four banks despite him being low paid.

Pressure

The 21-year-old man's father said he was convinced that the size of the debt was part of the pressure which led him to take his own life.

One of the lenders, Halifax, employed debt collectors to recover the money even after his death in August.

"The father notified the Halifax but the debt collectors have continued to send letters and interest has continued," said Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk.

"It is far from what we would expect. We will look at our performance in the wider area," said James Crosby, chief executive of Halifax parent company HBOS, in response.

Bank executives were also attacked over the fees they charge customers for late payments and the practice of sending out credit card cheques as an added incentive for customers to spend.

Under fire

The hearing is the latest stage of a Treasury Select Committee probe.

Plans to make credit card charges fairer were outlined in December when the committee issued a report calling for legislation to impose one single method for calculating annual percentage rates (APRs).

The industry has come under fire for charging high levels of interest - often seven or eight times the Bank of England's base rate.

The committee called for summary boxes on credit card statements outlining, in plain English, how long it would take the customers to pay off debt if they only made the minimum required repayment.

But in February, credit card providers were accused by one MP of dragging their feet over reforms to the industry.

However, the Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), representing credit card companies, said the industry had made some progress and that summary boxes and a single method of calculating APRs were being adopted.

But MP John McFall, chairman of the committee, said the information provided in one summary box, from Capital One, was confusing.

"I find it hard to read. It is of no value to customers at all," Mr McFall said.

But a spokesman for Capital One said: "Eighty-three percent of our customers said the summary box we have in print is at least as understandable and legible as other literature they receive."




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