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Minister demands swift action on payday loan companies

SWIFT action to cap the interest rates charged by payday loan companies has been demanded by the Scottish Government, with a call to bring forward proposed action from 2015 to next April.

The UK Government has announced that charges and interest rates on payday loans will be capped by January 2015.

But Scottish Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing said he had written to the Minister for Consumer Affairs Jo Swinson to ask for action to be taken sooner rather than later.

He said: "I am very concerned that the growth of payday lending is perpetuating a culture of exploitation as high interest borrowing casts thousands of people in Scotland into a spiral of debt.

"While we welcome the news that a cap will be introduced, it is long overdue and we are disappointed that it will not be coming into force until January 2015 at the earliest. Another 12 months of unconstrained payday lending will do nothing to address the very real financial pressures being faced right now by people across Scotland."

His announcement came as MSPs held a Members' debate on the issue led by Labour's Kezia Dugdale which saw an outpouring of anger from MSPs of all parties about the payday loan industry, its growth and its ubiquitous advertising often aimed a children, the next generation of borrowers.

Mr Ewing told MSPs he had received an unsolicited text message yesterday morning from such a company, describing "this form of venal usury" as "socially unacceptable" and saying that it was "quite simply scandalous" that the lenders were able to "plunder bank accounts" and incur further charges.

Mr Ewing said: "The uncontrolled growth of the payday loan industry has been the cause of one of the most extreme social hardships of modern times, a cause of great social misery."

He said 37 US states as well as Germany, France, Finland and Australia had outlawed or capped the interest charged by such firms, in effect driving them out of business.

These countries often capped annual interest at 50% or 60% while the UK continued to allow rates of more than 5000%.

He added: "The Scottish Government has made clear that with the powers of independence we would act immediately to bring pay day lending under control. I urge the UK Government to act and to act now."

Ms Dugdale spoke of statistics about the kind of people forced into the arms of the payday lenders and the fact food and fuel bills were often the reason why.

She spoke of a constituent who borrowed £200 and then found himself trapped in a cycle of being unable to pay it back and borrowing more. He ended up £5000 in debt to five different payday loan firms and every penny of his earnings went on repaying them.

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