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Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has had with the credit industry about measures to reduce the level of personal over-indebtedness through the use of existing credit reference bureaux; and if he will make a statement.

My Department is in regular contact with the main commercial lenders about a wide range of consumer credit issues including consumer overindebtedness. I am encouraged that lenders are making greater use of the services offered by credit reference agencies to aid them in their commercial assessment of the credit worthiness of credit applicants, which in turn should help to minimise consumer over-indebtedness.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will introduce legislation to require the credit industry to offer borrowers payment protection insurance; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to introduce such legislation. I accept that payment protection insurance schemes can be of value in helping to minimise the risk of over-indebtedness, provided that they offer adequate protection, but they involve extra cost and consumers should be able to choose whether or not to participate.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what information he has about the latest incidence of personal over-indebtedness; if he will finance an extension of the services of trading standards officers to provide consumers with professional financial advice; and if he will make a statement.

The definition of over-indebtedness depends on a range of individual circumstances and it is impossible reliably to estimate its total extent. However, Government statistics on the total financial liabilities of individuals are available, and for the most recent 12-month period for which figures are available, these rose by 16 per cent. Over the same period, the financial assets of individuals rose by 17 per cent. The trading standards service is funded through the rate support grant to enforce a wide range of statutory consumer protection duties. It is for local authorities to make the necessary arrangements and to allocate resources as they see fit. Information and advice to the public on a wide range of matters including consumer and financial problems is available from citizens advice bureaux. My Department provides funds, through grant in aid, to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux.