Courts ‘must be tougher on loan sharks preying on Leeds families’

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LEEDS city council leaders are calling on the courts to be tougher on illegal lenders and loan sharks.

The cross-party call comes after a council watchdog panel heard that in one recent case, two convicted loan sharks had walked from court with suspended sentences.

The committee was told the judge’s apparent leniency in the case was “shocking”, when the people involved are responsible for inflicting so much misery.

Leeds city council is launching a pre-Christmas war on payday lenders and loan sharks.

As reported in the YEP, the city has recently been leading a major drive to stamp out the predatory lenders targeting some of the city’s most vulnerable and financially pressured families.

Since a citywide campaign was launched last year, membership of the city’s credit unions has shot up to an unprecedented 27,000 people. Lending through the credit unions was up by 25 per cent last Christmas, and it is estimated that borrowers saved £650,000 by choosing this route.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “The council has worked incredibly hard to stop illegal lenders preying on vulnerable people in Leeds and we will carry on the fight to reclaim our high streets from unscrupulous loan companies.

“Working closely with Leeds Credit Union, we opened Leeds’s first ever credit union loan shop in Roundhay this summer, giving people who need it the chance to speak face-to-face to a responsible, affordable lender and also find out more about their options.

“However, when illegal money lenders do face the courts, we also need the sentences they receive to send a strong message to others looking take advantage of people in financial hardship.

“It is only by demonstrating that Leeds is a city where illegal lenders will be hit hard both in the streets and in the courts that we will can eventually realise our goal of making the city free from the plague of loan sharks.”

Coun Barry Anderson, chairman of the council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Scrutiny Board, an internal watchdog, said the judiciary was often “out of step” with public opinion on issues like illegal lenders.

“We have got to make an example of these people and send out a strong message that they should not be preying on vulnerable people,” he said.

“We have to make sure that people like that are clearly stamped upon.”

He acknowledged the judiciary “should be free to decide on cases without politicians interfering”, but added: “We should sit down with the CPS and explain the strategy we are trying to operate and the message we are trying to send out.

“I am not saying the judiciary are out of touch but there are times when they are out of step with public opinion on issues like this.”

He said judges - faced with sentencing apparently more serious crimes - might be tempted to treat such offences as “lesser”.

However the courts should not be afraid to take “firmer and stricter action”.

-To find out more about affordable loans visit: www.yourloanshop.com

- For finance and debt advice, visit the Money Information Centre website at www.leedsmic.org.uk.