Moneylending boom

Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 01:00

Six years ago the Central Bank last conducted a major review of licensed moneylenders. And this week the bank will publish a new report on the industry, which will show a 20 per cent rise in the number of people borrowing from moneylenders, and taking out high-cost loans in that period.

Each month, statistics on many key economic indicators – including inflation and unemployment – are published. They help to inform public opinion and to assist policy makers. But why has it taken so long – since 2007 – to update important information about the operations of the licensed money lending sector; a neglected part of the loan market, about which too little is known?

Some 360,000 people now rely on moneylenders to pay some of their most pressing bills. How many depend on illegal moneylenders, where borrowers pay even more exorbitant interest rates? We do not know. But we do know, as these figures show, that the years of austerity and economic stagnation since 2007 have taken their toll on the less well off.

Charitable bodies such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul have already warned of a “potential money lending crisis”. And the society has pressed the Central Bank to publish more information about the industry that it regulates. Certainly, its latest review should help to do that. But unless reviews of the operations of moneylenders are conducted more frequently – at least annually during a major economic downturn – they will prove to be of more benefit to historians than to policy makers.

As some banks close, and others scale back and rationalise their operations, all borrowers have found credit harder to obtain. But for those without a credit history, or with a poor credit record, it is impossible. Moneylenders have become their credit line of last resort, but at a price. Borrowers can, in some instances, pay annual interest rates of more than 200 per cent. Those on low incomes need a lower cost credit solution than licensed moneylenders provide.