Prosecuting predatory lenders takes too long - expert

It's taking far too long to prosecute predatory payday loan companies, budgeting experts say.

The Commerce Commission has launched action against two outfits in the past week - Pretty Penny and Moola. 

Tim Barnett, chief executive of FinCap, says the first complaints against Moola were laid four years ago.

"The delay is excessive... it takes much too long," he told The AM Show on Friday.

"In the meantime - as we know from the budgeting services on the ground - individual people suffer immense harm as a result of that."

FinCap represents budgeting and financial capability services around New Zealand, with support from the Ministry of Social Development. Barnett is urging the Government to introduce a cap on interest rates that can be charged.

"I think they're out to make a big profit, and I think the profit comes before the needs of the people who come to them," said Barnett. "I think they're promoting a product which is innately harmful and toxic... and so dangerous, it should be removed from the market."

The finance expenditure committee is presently considering a Bill that wouldn't cap interest rates, but would limit how much can be charged on top of the original loan.

"If we're able to cap the amount that's paid back, we think that's far more across the board, easier and safer way to do it," Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare told The AM Show.

"Because if we cap the interest rates, we find that most people who need to access that money still can't. What we're trying to do is say that if you borrow $500, you shouldn't pay back more than $1000, which I think in the scheme of the way lending happens, that's actually quite fair and considered."

Barnett said everything in the Bill is "pretty good", but doesn't go far enough.

"We need an interest rate cap which is set at a level that makes the operations of these companies harming New Zealanders taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pockets of people on low incomes, that interest rate cap needs to be there so these companies can no longer operate in the same way. It needs a shift in thinking by the Government."

National MP Judith Collins, who is on the committee looking at the Bill, said the bigger issue was one of poverty.

"People don't have enough money, and that's one of the issues. We have a lot of cross-party support on this issue because we have electorates where we see this happening, those terrible trucks going around selling their wares at four times the price what they are down the shop. 

"I think whatever you do with this, you end up pushing people into further desperation, whatever you do.

"We're doing what we can to try and make it as good as we can for the people who are most needy. But let's say things like petrol price rises, things like that, extra costs, all add up for people. People just feel they don't have enough money."

Barnett dismissed fears people on low incomes would have no one to turn to in times of need if predatory lenders were chased away.

"There are some products on the market for people on low incomes... through the banks and through charities. Also there are a host of loan companies offering more reasonable interest rates."

He said the only reason people turn to companies offering extreme interest rates was a lack of financial literacy and urgent need. If they were outlawed, more responsible lenders would be expected to take their place.

"The state has a responsibility to protect people from dangerous products."