What's MSE been campaigning on recently?
The MSE Campaigns team is dedicated to fighting the consumer's corner. In too many areas, consumers face financial injustice – in other words: poor service, unfairness, rip-offs and scams. It's our job to know what problems consumers are experiencing and then to campaign decision-makers in government, Parliament, regulators and elsewhere to fix them.
We're always working on several campaign issues at any one time. Here's a quick outline of just three of our current priorities:
We're calling for advertising of credit cards and loans to be much more transparent – because often what you see isn't what you'll actually get
Our research shows that, in the last three years, 40% of personal loan applicants and 28% of credit card applicants who know the details of their experiences have been offered a higher rate than advertised. Not only this, but many offered a higher rate since the representative APR regime was introduced in 2011 have told us how this negatively affected their financial and emotional wellbeing.
But this isn't against the rules. As it stands, lenders only have to offer the advertised interest rate on credit, such as loans or cards, to 51% of accepted customers. So in practice, almost half of applicants may not receive the rate they've seen advertised, and might have assumed they'd get. As a hard credit check will often have been done before someone knows the rate of interest they will actually get, many then feel unable to shop around for a better rate. We believe this is difficult, demoralising and dangerous for consumers. It shouldn't be this hard.
Representative APRs were introduced across the EU in 2011, and mean that a minimum of 51% of successful applicants get the advertised rate. Before that, the UK used typical APRs – where at least 66% had to get the best rate. Now the UK is no longer in the EU, MSE is calling on the regulator to return to using typical APRs, or setting the level higher than 66%. This would mean that when people apply for credit, they'd have a better chance of getting the rate they've seen.
We published a report in April 2022 outlining our campaign. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, welcomed the report and asked the Financial Conduct Authority to investigate.
See our recent MSE News story for more details on this campaign and our report It's time for a 'typical' solution to interest rate shock.
We've been calling for the Government to put paid-for ads in the upcoming Online Safety Bill to tackle online scam ads – and we're delighted that it will
Internet scammers are able to act with impunity by posting fake ads online in order to trick their innocent victims. Sadly, this means that we regularly hear from people who've lost often huge amounts of money – as well as suffered the psychological effects. Usually, they have followed a really convincing advert online, for example, for a bitcoin 'investment'. Many of these fake adverts use the images and names of well-known public figures, like Martin Lewis, to cruelly build trust, before parting victims from their cash.
We believed for a long time that the most effective way to tackle these scam ads was to amend the Online Safety Bill to force social media and other online companies to tackle the epidemic of fraudulent advertising found online, and we were delighted when, in March 2022, the Government agreed to do this. But the Bill isn't law yet, and it won't prevent every scam ad, so we'll keep working to push the issue high up the Government's agenda.
Changes like this often take a coalition, and on the issue of scams we've worked with an incredibly broad range of organisations who agree with us, including other consumer groups, charities, the financial services industry and the police, who all believe that big steps need to be taken to protect consumers from this devastating crime.
We want to see urgent regulation of buy now, pay later debt to ensure consumers are protected, like when they use other regulated credit products
Borrowing using buy now, pay later (BNPL) can help to spread the cost of spending when used correctly, but on the whole the sector is currently unregulated – meaning that there is a lack of control over how it's designed and marketed, unlike other types of debt.
MSE, alongside others, has been campaigning for BNPL to be regulated – so that it's designed with consumer protection in mind, and if things go wrong, there are independent avenues to complain.
We were therefore really pleased when in, February 2021, the Government said it would take action to bring BNPL companies within the powers of the financial regulator.
Then when the Government issued a consultation considering the detail of how to do this, we surveyed MSE users about their experiences to hear up-to-the-minute stories.
Some had found BNPL useful and hadn't had any problems, but others hadn't even known they were taking on a form of debt. Many survey respondents highlighted the lack of consistency of complaints handling between providers, with some ultimately footing the bill for items they either did not receive or had sent back to the original seller. Under a regulated system, we would expect consumers to be able to take such issues to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
It's clearly vital that BNPL is properly regulated as soon as possible to ensure that consumers are protected, like they would be with a credit card or a loan. But the wheels of government can turn slowly, so we'll be keeping the pressure on and do what we can to keep things moving. In the meantime, it's wise to be aware that these services are usually not regulated, which means you (usually) won't have access to the FOS if things go wrong.
See our Buy now, pay later guide for full details on how it works and the warnings to consider before using it.