UK watchdog warns banks over treatment of customers in debt

* Second coronavirus payment holidays due to end

* Banks told to be flexible with struggling customers

* Customers should be offered lower interest rates if needed

LONDON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority told banks and other lenders on Wednesday not to crack down on customers who will struggle after repayment holidays come to an end.

When the economy went into lockdown in March to fight the pandemic, regulators set out how providers of credit to consumers like personal loans, overdrafts, motor finance, buy-now-pay-later and pawnbrokers should offer payment deferrals.

Millions of consumers have requested three-month payment holidays. People can request a holiday until Oct. 31, meaning it could stretch to the end of next January.

The FCA set out guidance on Wednesday on how it expects banks and others to provide tailored support for those still struggling once a second three-month payment holiday ends.

Banks should provide support before a payment is missed, be flexible, such as by offering lower interest rates, or agreeing staged reductions in overdraft limits to minimise stress and anxiety for customers, it said.

They must not pressurise customers into repaying their debt within an unreasonably short period of time, the FCA said.

“Our proposals are designed to help people who have been facing payment difficulties because of the pandemic get back on track with tailored support from firms,” FCA interim CEO Christopher Woolard said.

“For those who can restart payments, it is in their best interests to do so.”

Firms regulated by the FCA are required to treat customers fairly at all times, and breaching this rule under the proposed guidance could lead to enforcement action. (Reporting by Huw Jones;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)


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