The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is today writing to more than 3,500 lenders to remind them of the standards they should meet as consumers across the country are affected by the rising cost of living. With household bills expected to continue to rise into the autumn, it is important that firms act now to make sure borrowers struggling with payments and customers in vulnerable circumstances can access the help they need.
The regulator’s wide-ranging work has looked at how borrowers in financial difficulty are treated by lenders. It has found examples of lenders providing the right support to their customers. However, most firms need to have better conversations to fully understand their customers’ individual circumstances, so they can provide appropriate tailored support and ensure that arrangements to pay back debt are sustainable.
The FCA is also concerned that some customers in vulnerable circumstances are not getting the support they need. And some lenders are not discussing the potential benefits of money guidance or free debt advice or helping and supporting borrowers to access these.
These concerns were seen broadly across the sector. More serious failings were found at more than 30 firms, largely in the consumer credit sector. The FCA expects these firms to make improvements in how customers are treated.
The FCA is therefore reminding lenders that they should provide support to struggling borrowers which is tailored to their specific circumstances and only charge them fees which are fair and that cover the firm’s costs.
In its letter, the FCA is also telling lenders to:
- make sure that their approach to taking on new borrowers takes account of the financial pressure they may face and the impact on their expenditure.
- consider and, if necessary, improve how they treat consumers in vulnerable circumstances.
- effectively direct customers who need it to money guidance or free debt advice.
People who are struggling to manage their finances should speak to their lenders for support as early as they can. They can also get free support and advice, for example, through the MoneyHelper service.
Sheldon Mills, Executive Director of Consumers and Competition at the FCA, said:
'Many consumers are feeling the impact of the rising cost of living in their personal finances and we expect this to increase over the next few months. Early action is important for those struggling with debt. We need all firms to get the basics right and provide good quality support. Where we see more serious wrongdoing, we are already acting to ensure these firms improve.
'The financial services industry has a significant role in helping consumers manage their finances – and it should expect us to pay close attention to how they do that over the next few months.'
Notes to editors
- Read the Dear CEO letter.
- The letter was sent to over 3,500 firms, including retail banks and consumer credit firms.
- Although not all Buy Now Pay Later products are currently regulated, the letter was also sent to unauthorised BNPL providers to encourage these firms to provide their customers with an appropriate level of care and support.
- Our work during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic led to over 4.5 million mortgage and consumer credit payment holidays. We followed this with our work on Borrowers in Financial Difficulty, looking at how firms continued to treat customers who were struggling. This work continues to evolve in light of the cost of living crisis.
- This work has included four surveys of over 400 lending firms, consumer research and deep dives with a sample of 63 firms, covering a range of firm sizes and lending portfolios. So far, out of the sample, 34 lenders are being asked to make improvements.
- Our work did not cover all sectors where firms may have customers who are in financial difficulty, but the findings will be of benefit to all retail lending firms. As part of this work, we continue to monitor outcomes and carefully scrutinise firms in this sector and will use our supervisory and enforcement powers to take further action as necessary.
- Our expectations in the Dear CEO letter are based on our existing principles, rules and guidance, which we are applying to ensure that firms act in their customers’ interests. Later this year, we will finalise any rules in relation to the Consumer Duty, but we are not waiting for the Duty to come in before we act to improve consumer outcomes.
- Find out more information about the FCA.