The Financial Conduct Authority has published its final policy statement on new rules for the credit card market, which will come into force on 1 March 2018. Firms have until 1 September to comply.
The changes are designed to provide more protection for credit card customers in persistent debt or at risk of financial difficulties. They are being introduced following a comprehensive study of the credit card market, which analysed the accounts of 34 million credit card customers over a period of five years and surveyed almost 40,000 consumers.
Under these new rules, firms will be required to take a series of escalating steps to help customers who are making low repayments over a long period, beginning when the customer has been in persistent debt over 18 months. After this time, firms need to contact customers prompting them to change their repayment and informing them their card may ultimately be suspended if they do not change their repayment pattern.
Once a consumer has been in persistent debt for 36 months, their provider will have to offer them a way to repay their balance in a reasonable period. If they are unable to repay the firm must show the customer forbearance. This may include reducing, waiving or cancelling any interest, fees or charges. Firms who do not comply with the new rules could be subject to action by the FCA.
Credit card firms have also agreed to voluntary measures, which will give customers control over increases to their credit limit. Under the measures agreed by credit card firms customers can opt-out from receiving automatic credit limit increases. Customers in persistent debt for 12 months will not be offered credit limit increases, this should result in around 1.4 million accounts per year not receiving such offers.
"These new rules will significantly reduce the numbers of customers with problem credit card debt," Christopher Woolard, Director of Strategy and Competition, said in a statement. "Credit cards offer customers flexibility to manage their finances and repayments, but with this there is a risk customers can build up and hold debt over a long period of time, without making much headway on the outstanding balance. Under these new rules firms will have to help customers to break the cycle of persistent debt and ensure customers who cannot afford to repay more quickly, are given help."
Figures show that customers in persistent debt pay on average around £2.50 in interest and charges for every £1 that they repay of their borrowing. There are a total of four million accounts in persistent debt, and firms have few incentives to help these customers because they are profitable.