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03/07/09

The end of the road for credit card cheques

Credit card cheques are set to be banned as part of plans for consumer protection due to be announced by the government. Measures to assist people facing difficulties with debt and at risk from rogue traders during the recession are also expected to be announced.

We owe more than 230 billion on things like credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans. Lenders have been accused of encouraging us into this debt by offering too much easy credit, and credit card cheques in particular have been singled out.

These allow people to write cheques as normal but with the money coming from their credit card instead of their bank account. And the numbers are big; in just the first three months of this year, more than 32 million credit card cheques were issued. But only 450,000 were actually used by people and they can be expensive - unlike normal purchases, interest usually starts wracking up straight away.

In an interview with the BBC, the Prime Minister signalled the end of the road for credit card cheques, saying the Government would ban companies from sending them out unsolicited.

Gordon Brown: "I think we've got to deal with that and we've got to protect the consumer. A lot of it is information, a lot of it is transparency from the financial institutions themselves, but the consumer must have the right to know that there will be someone protecting their interests."

The government also launching a consultation on whether companies should be banned from increasing credit card limits without people asking. That's what happened to Terence McGuire when he was trying to reduce his debt. He asked the company to put the limit back where it was.

Terence McGuire told the BBC: "The reaction I got when I phoned the credit card company up was one of shock I suppose on their behalf because I was asking them to reduce my credit card limit back to the rate it was set at and I didn't actually want the credit."

The industry points out it is in no one's interest to lend more than people can pay back, but these aren't new problems and they could have been tackled some years ago.

Phil Jones from consumer group, Which? commented: "I think the facts are known on all these issues and the arguments are clear and consumers can't really wait around in the present circumstances with lots of talk within the industry. We really need to get on and act."

It's also possible that with a General Election looming, none of the consultation measures will actually lead to any changes.