Consumer credit and over-indebtedness : the parliamentary response : past, present and future
In 2001 the Government announced the Consumer Credit Review, initiating consultations on changes to the present UK consumer credit legislation. The White Paper `Fair Clear and Competitive; The Consumer Credit Market in the 21st Century' was published in December 2003 and a Consumer Credit Bill was brought before Parliament in 2005, gaining Royal Assent on 30th March 2006. Within the Review, over-indebtedness became a focus of concern and one of a suggested number of reasons for reform of consumer credit legislation. The aim of this thesis is to consider the parliamentary approach to consumer credit regulation with particular reference to over-indebtedness. Such examination allows conclusions to be drawn as to how Parliament approached the development of consumer credit legislation and to what extent the perceptions and regulation of consumer credit we see today reflect their historical development. The study is based primarily on an historical analysis of attitudes and approach displayed by Parliament, not only towards the development of dedicated consumer credit legislation but also that relating to personal bankruptcy and debt enforcement, an issue integral to over indebtedness. The starting point is the early 19th century, a time when the first push for general credit reform became a real and increasingly visible issue. The historical inquiry illustrates to what extent parliamentary attitudes drove the policy behind legislative reforms, as the regulation developed. The research illustrates that Parliament has ultimately regarded consumer protection as the raison d'etre for consumer credit regulation; as the centuries have progressed, it has been the borrower and the changing nature of his/her condition that has captured the legislature's imagination. The welfare of this individual has become of the utmost priority, never more so than in the case of the changing nature of the `vulnerable' consumer. Within this the regulation of unfairness has grown to have increasing significance vis-a-vis considerations of reform. The external influence of Europe, with its own established strategy for consumer policy has contributed to this, resulting in a UK regulatory framework that not only aims to provide basic legal protection for all consumers and safeguards for the vulnerable, but also strives to regulate unfairness within consumer credit transactions.