Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 March 2022

Consumer Credit (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage


2:30 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this Bill and I welcome the Minister of State's presence here today. I was in the fortunate position to be in the Chair while listening to some of the contributions. I am reminded of the fact that moneylending is still with us. We will have read about it in the New Testament and read as children about Jesus railing against the moneylenders in the temples. It featured strongly in some of the greatest pieces of Shakespearean writing as well. It is an old practice but that does not mean it is an acceptable one.

None of us would disagree that nobody should be forced to have recourse to a moneylender. I have highlighted some of the pieces in the Minister of State's introductory contribution. I know we are pushing an open door with him on a number of the themes that have been raised and that he will be sensitive and alive to many of these issues. I welcome how the Bill modernises and streamlines the licensing regime. It also puts some discipline on something that exists which I would prefer did not. It potentially provides for a degree of competition in the sector by nationalising the licence, as opposed to licences being provided on a regional basis and being stricter in some areas, so other people may move into this. However, there are obvious pitfalls, such as requiring a limit on cash loans as regards when they can be provided and repaid.

I was very taken by the points about the stereotypical person who has recourse to a moneylender. It is difficult to imagine people calling to a door to collect cash repayments in a modern society. I imagine it is quite intimidating in some cases, and very personally intrusive. That gets to the heart of the matter. Many people have asked why we do we not use credit unions in these instances. To some degree, that suggestion ignores the fact people may have exhausted every kind of formal route of borrowing. The Minister of State made that point in his contribution. Traditionally, to borrow from the credit union, people have to have a few quid in the credit union. Clearly, people who have to resort to a moneylender are at their wits' end and are in the last chance saloon when trying to a few quid together.

My late father was a milkman and when I was young, aside from delivering milk with him I used to go with him every Thursday and Friday to collect the milk money. We had our little receipt book and money bag and that taught me some early lessons. I was younger than most children would be allowed to work today and I enjoyed it. One of the lessons I learned was that the people who appeared to be most economically challenged were always the ones who paid their bills up to date and on time and who had the cash ready when you called. There was a facility in those days that you did not have to pay the bill in full if it was £10, which was a lot of money. I encountered families that had nice cars in the driveway, lived in good houses and seemed to want for nothing but they were never able to clear their milk money bills at the end of the week. They might have paid £15 off a £20 bill and then the next time they would pay £15 off what was now a £25 bill and then they would pay £15 off a £30 bill and it kept rising. We should not always rush to judge a book by its cover in that regard.

I will plead with the Minister of State on the following point in the context of retrofitting, which I remember raising at a parliamentary party meeting. It is staggering that there is between 250,000 and 500,000 customers of moneylenders and that by and large they fall into a particular gender and age group. It is also staggering that the products or services they spend that cash on can be narrowed down. It would be great if the Minister of State could provide more statistics on how many people repay the moneylenders in full and on how long it takes on average to pay back that €500.

When I was growing up and I had my first home I remember that the ESB had shops all around the country. I was very taken by the point that a lot of people seek money from moneylenders for instances like Deputy Martin Kenny mentioned such as the washing machine suddenly breaking and a replacement being needed or some other household good needing to be replaced. Some 20 years ago the ESB had a shop in every town in the country and one could buy a brand new washing machine and other things, as I did, and one paid a certain amount off it with each ESB bill as it came in over a period of two or three years. It might be helpful to look back on that. I suspect that it would be a source of embarrassment to turn up in the credit union looking for this money. Credit unions tend to be local and parochial with a degree of intimacy and local knowledge about people. If people are really stuck and strapped for cash it might not be the place they want to go. There is a huge degree of anonymity with moneylenders.

The interest rates, even the rates we are talking about capping them at, are staggering. I welcome this move. Deputy Doherty said he has been raising this for years and he acknowledged the fact that this Government and the Minister of State are moving on it. It is important and it has been lying around the legislative process for far too long. I commend the Minister of State for introducing the Bill and moving it to Second Stage. I will be watching its progress as we go along.


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