I hate the Wonga puppets. Partly, that's just because the nightmare-inducing little monsters creep me out. But mainly I hate them because they keep popping up in my inbox, asking me if I want to win a PS4 or join their 'social site'. Then, because my inbox is full of Wonga puppets, the adverts around my inbox are all for payday loans. I am officially the payday lenders' target market, the ideal person for any company to advertise to. Why? Because I got in trouble with payday loans.
I took out my first payday loan to cover the sort of emergency they feature on the advert, unforeseen travel expenses. They were the first and only option to pop into my head, and as promised, the money was in my account faster than I could think of how I was going to pay it back. Although I could cover the loan with my next pay cheque, I didn't have enough left afterwards to get through the month. So I got another payday loan. I got a payday loan out every month for eighteen months. I made sure that my loan was the first thing I paid for, so I never made a late payment and I never rolled a loan over. I therefore don't show up as a problem customer. But the interest payments, and the struggle to get out of the trap, had left me in poverty for a year and a half. Now I'm finally out of that cycle, and still receiving emails with titles like 'We Miss You'.
My experience was the reason I joined Sharkstoppers, which is a campaign for better regulation of payday lenders run by Movement for Change. For years, I felt too embarrassed to tell anyone about the problems I'd faced, thinking that everyone would say I had only myself to blame. But as soon as I started organising to sort the problem out, I realised there were others who experienced exactly the same as me.
Talking to people about their issues with payday lenders, it became clear that there wasn't one single problem to fix. People were being drawn into cycles of debt because of the high cost of credit, because of a lack of affordable credit and because of poor selling, credit checking and collection practises.
The stories of people like me helped identify the specific changes that were needed, and they helped get those changes made. Our campaigners got the Labour Party to agree to capping the cost of credit. George Osborne soon followed suit. The cap on the cost of credit will now be coming into force in 2015.
But that on its own won't fix the problem. Not if people have no access to fair credit. And not if people are being mis-sold loans they don't need or can't afford.
That's why Sharkstoppers is now moving on. We've won the cap on the cost of credit, but more needs to be done.
We are going to keep fighting to ensure the cap on the cost is a fair cap.
We will be calling on the National Health Service to offer payroll deduction to all staff.
And, importantly for me because of my experience, we will be calling on stricter advertising rules. Payday lenders should not be allowed to advertise during children's television. They should offer prominent and clear mechanisms for people to opt-out of direct marketing. And the payday loan companies should stop passing on data of their customers to each other.
We are asking the Financial Conduct Authority to use their new powers to introduce these advertising rules now. Rules which might not put an end to the Wonga puppets - but it might stop them harassing me.
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