The purpose of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 (“CCCFA”) is to protect the interests of borrowers by placing obligations on creditors to be responsible lenders. It does this by providing general rules of credit contracts and by setting out disclosure requirements for consumer credit contracts. This article discusses these rules and requirements to help you understand your obligations as a lender, or your rights as a borrower.
Credit Contracts vs. Consumer Credit Contracts:
The CCCFA defines both general credit contracts and consumer credit contracts. A credit contract is defined in section 7 as a contract under which credit is or may be provided. On the other hand, a consumer credit contract is a loan taken out by a natural person who is going to use the funds for wholly or predominantly (more than 50% household or domestic use (this for example could be a mortgage for a house, but it does not include a loan for investment purposes). There must also be interest charges or credit fees and the creditor must carry on a business of providing credit or make practice of entering into credit contracts.
A consumer credit contract carries with it additional disclosure obligations that are imposed on the lender to ensure that the interests of the borrower are adequately protected.
A loan might fit under the class of a consumer credit contract, but it will definitely constitute a credit contract. It is generally presumed that where a party claims that a credit contract is a consumer credit contract, it will be just that. However, as set out in section 14 of the CCCFA, the borrower can make a declaration before entering into the contract stating that the credit is going to be used for business/investment purposes and that it is therefore not a consumer credit contract.
Responsibility of lenders:
The responsibilities of lenders are set out in section 9C of the CCCFA. These are not binding on the lender but it is strongly advised that they are complied with as they can be used as evidence to prove that the lender was a responsible one. Where applicable to the particular contract, the lender must at all times:
a. Exercise the care, diligence and skill of a responsible lender.
b. The lender must make reasonable inquiries in relation to the borrower before they enter into the agreement. In particular, they need to be satisfied that the credit provided will meet the borrower’s requirements, and that the borrower will not be subject to substantial hardship when they make payments under the agreement.
c. Assist the borrower in reaching an informed decision as to whether or not to enter into the agreement and to be reasonably aware of the full implications of entering into the agreement. This includes ensuring that any advertising is not likely to mislead and that the terms of the agreement are expressed to the borrower in a clear, concise and intelligible manner. The same goes for information provided after the contract is entered into, and any subsequent dealings, insurance contracts, and guarantees.
d. Treat the borrower and their property reasonably and in an ethical manner.
e. Ensure that the agreement is not oppressive.
f. Meet lender’s legal obligations under various other statutes including the Fair Trading Act 1986 and the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993.
The main thing is that lenders ensure that the credit contract is not harsh or oppressive, and that the borrowers are aware of any implications associated with the contract.
What should a credit contract (for example, a loan agreement) include to ensure compliance with the CCCFA?
What needs to be done in order to comply with the CCCFA largely depends on the nature of the particular credit contract. Ultimately though, the CCCFA is seeking to ensure that the borrower is properly protected and that the lender has been a responsible lender and has made sure that the borrower is fully informed as to the nature of the agreement and the implications of entering into it. Consumer credit contracts require an initial disclosure statement as well as continuing disclosure statements to be made at least every six months (where applicable).
Initial Disclosure Statements
A consumer credit contract needs to make key information available in a clear and concise manner to the borrower such as interest rates, default fees and the borrower’s right to relief or cancellation. It is essential that the implications of entering into a credit contract are made known to the customer.
Before a contract is entered into, the following information (in summary) must be disclosed to the consumer (where applicable to the contract), pursuant to schedule 1 of the CCCFA:
a. Full name and address of creditor;
b. Initial unpaid balance;
c. Subsequent advance;
d. Total advances;
e. Credit limit;
f. Annual interest rate;
g. Method of charging interest;
h. Total interest charges;
i. Interest free period;
j. Credit fees and charges;
k. Payments required;
l. Fully prepayment;
m. Security interest;
n. Disabling devices;
o. Default interest charges and default fees;
p. Debtor’s right to cancel;
q. Debtor’s right to apply for relief on grounds of unforeseen hardship;
r. Continuing disclosure statements;
s. Consent to electronic communications;
t. Dispute resolution and Registration under Financial Service Providers (Registration and Dispute Resolution) Act 2008.
This information needs to be disclosed in a way that is clear, concise and intelligible.
Continuing Disclosure Statements
Continuing disclosure statements must also be made pursuant to section 19 of the Act, insofar as they apply to the contract. These are summarised as follows:
a. The opening and closing dates of the period covered by the statement; and
b. The opening and closing unpaid balances; and
c. The date, amount, and a description of each advance during the statement period; and
d. The date and amount of each interest charge debited to the debtor’s account during the statement period; and
e. The date and amount paid by the debtor to the creditor, or credited to the debtor, during the statement period; and
f. The date, amount and a description of each fee or charge debited the debtor’s account during the statement period; and
g. The amount and the time for payment of the next payment that must be made by the debtor under the contract; and
h. The annual interest rate or rates during the statement period (expressed as a percentage or percentages); and
i. In the case of a credit card contract, a prescribed minimum repayment warning and other prescribed information in connection with payments under a credit card contract.
A continuing disclosure statement may not be required in certain situations, for example where interest charges or credit fees are not charged. The full list of exemptions is set out in section 21 of the CCCFA.
This article is not a substitute for legal advice and you should talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. If you have any questions arising out of the above, please feel free to get in touch. You can contact Kris Morrison – firstname.lastname@example.org or Steven Moe – email@example.com or give us a ring on 03 348 8480