People struggling with high-cost credit or car finance are to be given more time to pay, under proposals from the UK’s financial watchdog.
The Financial Conduct Authority plans to extend the deadline to apply for a payment freeze until 31 October.
People who have already applied for support will be able to ask for a further payment deferral.
The proposals cover motor finance, buy-now pay-later, rent-to-own and pawnbroking schemes.
“It is vital that people facing temporary payment difficulties because of the impact of coronavirus get the assistance they need,” said Christopher Woolard, interim chief executive at the FCA.
“For those who have already taken a payment freeze and can afford to start making payments, even partially, it is in their best interest to do so, but for those that need help it will be there.”
The FCA also plans to extend the ban on repossessions until 31 October for motor finance and rent-to-own customers still facing temporary payment difficulties and who need their vehicles or goods.
The watchdog is asking for comments on the proposals by 5pm on 6 July 2020 and it expects to finalise the guidance shortly afterwards.
The FCA, which brought in the initial protections in late April, said lending firms should contact their customers at the end of a first payment freeze to find out if they can resume payments.
It pointed out that if customers can afford to return to making regular repayments it is in their best interest to do so.
If customers can afford to restart repayments, lenders should agree a plan on how the missed payments could be repaid.
Meanwhile anyone who continues to need help should still get help, the watchdog said, and firms should freeze or reduce payments to a level they can afford for a further three months.
Customers who have not yet had a payment freeze would be able to request one up until 31 October 2020.
The watchdog added that payment freezes should not have a negative impact on people’s credit files.
Debt charity Step Change warned of the long-term dangers of payment freezes on struggling borrowers.
“Financial pressure continues to build for many households and we need to start thinking about the help people will need the payment holiday periods end,” said Richard Lane, director of external affairs at the charity.
“With more than four million people borrowing to make ends meet since the start of the pandemic, the FCA needs to address how to prevent long-term consequences for those forced into debt due to coronavirus.”
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The extension throws into sharp relief the chasm between the protections for consumer credit and the protections on household bills like rent or council tax which end in August.
“This means people could still be getting a payment holiday on their car or sofa, while being thrown out of their home or having their possessions seized for council tax arrears.
“The government took bold action at the start of the pandemic to protect people struggling to pay essential household bills. They still have time to help the millions who’ve fallen behind on their council tax or their rent.”
Adrian Dally, head of motor finance at the Finance & Leasing Association, said: “The breadth of today’s guidance from the FCA recognises the variety of different situations that customers will be in at this point.”
He pointed out that with more parts of the economy reopening, many customers will be returning to work and will be able to resume full payments.
“For those returning to part time work, partial payments are an option,” he said. “Customers who still need ongoing help will of course be supported.”