Citizens Advice Medway is a registered charity that offers free, independent and impartial advice to the whole of Medway on a range of issues including Housing, Welfare Benefits, Employment, Debt, Family Law and many others.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team, which works in partnership with local Trading Standards departments around the country to tackle loan sharks, is launching an awareness campaign to reach private rented sector tenants throughout July 2014.
Whilst anyone can be a victim of a loan shark, this month’s campaign will focus on helping those who live in private rented accommodation. These tenants might not be aware of support that is available to them from local authorities and charities if they are struggling to make ends meet.Quite often councils, agencies and Credit Unions can provide bonds or deposits but few people realise this and can get into debt to move home and start their new tenancy on a back-foot. The team is advising people never to use a loan shark for rent or a deposit, and fear that this is a currently hidden and under-reported problem.
Research shows that loan sharks will often target people who are on low incomes, as well as those who may struggle to obtain credit from legitimate sources. The campaign is aimed at reaching out to those who may be unaware of the support available.
Throughout July, the team will work locally with key partners that support those going into or living in the private rented sector to make them aware of the signs of illegal lending, as well as trying to reach residents directly with targeted leaflet drops and awareness activities. They will also be working with private landlords to help them provide support and advice to any tenants who have got into financial difficulty with loan sharks prior to taking on a tenancy.
Illegal money lending is an issue all across the country with an estimated 310,000 individuals affected.
Loan sharks will typically appear friendly at first but their behaviour can quickly change with some resorting to threats, violence and intimidation to enforce their debts. They operate illegally, without the correct permissions from the Financial Conduct Authority and rarely give paperwork, keeping borrowers in the dark as to how much they are paying back. Some will even take items such as passports as security or even bank cards with the PIN in order to withdraw directly from borrowers’ accounts.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the National Trading Standards Board, said: “The process of moving home can be expensive and loan sharks take advantage of this, striking just when people feel under real financial pressure. It is crucial that people know that, even if they’re renting privately, there is help available to them if they get into financial difficulty. Loan sharks are illegal, predatory and should never be considered as an option.
National Trading Standards are committed to tackling loan sharks and we look forward to making a real difference for private tenants across the country over the next month. If anyone suspects an individual of loan sharking or has been a victim themselves then I would urge them to call the hotline or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Chris Hancock, Head of Housing at Crisis, said: "It’s great to see the Illegal Money Lending Unit focus on the private rented sector. We’ve worked with local housing projects over the last three years to help 8,000 people into decent homes, so we know that with proper support tenants can make a lasting home – without the need to resort to loan sharks.”
Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “During the month our aim as a national team is to make a difference locally. Whether a community is urban, inner city or rural we understand that loan sharks lend to those in private, social and council tenancies and indeed home owners. Our aim is to tackle any current illegal money lending issues whilst sending a preventative message to all – loan sharks are not a safe or cheap way to borrow money, even if you’re doing so to move home."
We would urge anyone who has been the victim of a loan shark, or knows of someone who has to contact the Illegal Money Lending Team in the strictest confidence on 0300 555 2222. Lines are open 24/7 and callers can remain anonymous if they wish.
For updates on the campaign visit www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject or twitter: @loansharknews
To report a loan shark:
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline: 0300 555 2222
Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003
Private message on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject
National Trading Standards Board
Stop Loan Sharks Project