The measures to support consumers in the UK could come into effect from 9 April. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA The financial regulator has announced plans to freeze loan and credit card payments for up to three months as part of emergency measures for consumers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The measures, which would usually require a…
The financial regulator has announced plans to freeze loan and credit card payments for up to three months as part of emergency measures for consumers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
The measures, which would usually require a lengthy consultation, could come into force as soon as 9 April. The Financial Conduct Authority said the process was being fast-tracked “given the national emergency and the significant impact on consumers’ finances right now”.
It is aimed at consumers and renters who are not benefiting from existing relief measures that have targeted homeowners – with mortgage payment holidays – or business owners.
The proposals include a temporary freeze on loan and credit card payments for consumers who are facing financial difficulties as a result of the outbreak.
The FCA said consumers who were at risk of having their credit cards suspended because of the regulator’s new affordability rules would not lose access to their accounts.
Lenders would also have to waive interest charges on arranged overdrafts up to £500 over the same period, which would extend relief already announced by some banks including Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds.
Consumers who dip into unauthorised overdrafts would also benefit. Most banks have started charging a single interest rate of 39.9% for both arranged and unauthorised overdrafts as part of new rules meant to standardise charges this month.
But the FCA’s emergency measures force firms to make sure all customers are “no worse off” due to the changes, meaning some customers may revert to lower interest rates.
Banks and credit card providers will have to ensure that consumer credit ratings are unaffected by any of the measures, the FCA said.
The FCA’s interim chief executive, Christopher Woolard, said: “Coronavirus has caused an unprecedented financial shock with far-reaching consequences for consumers in every corner of the UK.
“If confirmed, this package of measures we are proposing today will help provide affected consumers with the temporary financial support they need to help them weather the storm during this challenging time.”
The news has been welcomed by consumer advocates including Martin Lewis, who said it would help level the playing field for customers who may not have time to shop around for better rates during the crisis.
Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “We have already seen many unsecured lenders put some forbearance criteria in place … However the provision is patchy and has become a banking lottery and that’s unfair – no one could have taken into account when they signed up for products how considerate each lender would be in these extraordinary times.”