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Debt and Financial Optimism in the UK Continue

With ?1.3 trillion pounds worth of debt in the UK, Scotland's Citizens Advice Bureau has welcomed a new Bill to regulate lenders and protect borrowers from creating un-repayable levels of personal debt.

Chief executive Kaliani Lyle said: "For years, Citizens Advice Bureaux have been dealing with case after case of ordinary people who have been enticed into unsustainable debt."

"The existing legislation - the 1974 Consumer Credit Act - is simply too antiquated to deal with the explosion in aggressively marketed credit that has taken place over the past decade or so."

The Consumer Credit Act is set up to outlaw "extortionate" interest rates, however it has proved to be ineffective as it doesn't actually define what is regarded as extortionate.

This coincides with an investigation being carried out by banking watchdogs, into suspected mis-selling of personal loans and credit cards at bank branch levels. Following on from the BBC's Real Story programme which revealed banks are offering large staff bonuses to encourage sales of expensive loans, credit cards and other financial products. Staff at Lloyds TSB were shown to have encouraged customers to accept sums of money they could not afford to repay.

"Which?" said it believed it was time the industry had a proper debate over sales incentive structures.

The BBC also criticised the expensive cost of the bank's payment protection insurance and how credit cards were pushed onto customers.

Graeme Millar, of the Scottish Consumer Council, said: "Consumers themselves need to act responsibly and ensure they are not asking for money they cannot afford to repay."

Tougher codes of practice imposing stricter standards on the way products are sold, and the use of financial information qualified financial advisers and from comparison web sites like Moneynet can help to gain consumers the best deals, and reduce the risks of mis-selling.

Independent financial adviser, Alan Steele commented, "Debt has always been a problem for a minority of people. One of the current problems is the willingness of bank managers to hand out loans and credit cards, which means this minority has increased, but the majority are coping with their debt."

It remains to be seen whether the nation's optimistic mood, recently reflected in a Mori survey carried out for the Prudential, in its ability to cope with levels of personal debt is long or short term. The report showed consumers are still failing to save, with one in five people saying they had no plans to increase the amount they put away.

Jackie Ronson, of the Prudential, said that many people are viewing their disposable income as decreasing, and yet they are happy to maintain their current level of debt, "add to that the continued concern about pensions in the UK, and we are looking at people who are likely to seriously struggle in retirement."

Additional Resources
The Scotsman
BBC

Richard works in Edinburgh for a media company, occasionally writing for the personal finance blog Cashzilla, and drinking too much coffee.

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