11 December 2015
Time for a ban on payday loan adverts
Several years ago, when I worked at Which?, we uncovered a story about the number of payday loan adverts that were being shown in between children's television shows. Presumably they were targeted at the parents, but naturally it raised a concern about what younger viewers might make of these.
Back in those days, payday lending adverts were far less restrained than they are today - actively enticing people to borrow as a means of instant gratification. Several years on, following some deserved extra scrutiny from regulators and government, the adverts are thankfully a bit more modest. Nevertheless, they still have the same aim of encouraging people to borrow - and they're still being shown at all hours of the day, including at times when impressionable young viewers are watching.
Setting the wrong example
I don't want to come across all Mary Whitehouse - but if children are regularly watching adverts about loans and credit, it's inevitable that it will start to impact how they come to think of money.
As a nation, we already have something of an unhealthy relationship with credit. It's a useful and important financial tool - but it should only be used when people can truly afford it, and should not be something that people enter into lightly and whimsically.
As I've said before on this blog, debt can be just as dangerous as cigarettes when it's misused. It ruins lives - and the stress that it causes has a tangible impact on people's health. We've long accepted a universal ban on advertising cigarettes in the UK - yet payday lenders remain free to advertise when and where they like.
"Fun" and "exciting" adverts
That's why we're 100% behind the Children's Society's campaign to get these adverts banned during children's programming.
The charity has some alarming statistics, which illustrate why this is an issue of real concern. The majority of 10-17 year olds say they have seen payday loan adverts, and a third of 13-17 year olds said they found them "fun", "tempting" or "exciting".
It's not a great leap to assume that many of this generation will go onto become customers of these loan companies - in part because they spent their childhood being constantly exposed to the idea of instant credit.
A universal ban
Personally, I'd not only support a ban on payday lending advertising before the watershed - but I'd also favour a ban on loan adverts at all times of day. If we are willing to ban cigarette ads, we should be willing to ban ads for credit too.
For people who genuinely need a loan, they can turn to comparison sites to find the best deal. But lenders should not be given the chance to entice them into borrowing.
It's astonishing that the Children's Society should still be needing to fight this campaign. Politicians have had the chance to deal with this issue - but have continued to kick it into the long-grass. The charity has at least managed to get the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice to consult on whether a ban is necessary. But I'm informed that the chances of success are not great.
Politicians like Stella Creasy did a great job at pushing the payday lending industry into the spotlight, and getting it properly regulated. But there are still a few loose ends to tie up.
Click here to support the Children's Society's campaign.