Cash seized from loan sharks who prey on the most vulnerable has been pumped back into helping scores of Leeds families get back on their financial feet.
The scheme, overseen by Leeds City Credit Union, has already helped more than 60 people, and is part of a city-wide pledge to help people stay out of the grips of unscrupulous lenders by directing them to alternative solutions and helping them to get saving.
The project follows on from the Government’s autumn statement, when it was announced that more proceeds of crime money - cash which has been confiscated from loan sharks following successful prosecutions - will be allocated to credit unions.
The national Illegal Money Lending Team - which oversees work in Leeds - works very closely with Leeds City Credit Union to launch savings incentives to encourage more people to open accounts, save and ultimately prevent them from having to turn to a loan shark to borrow money.
The Leeds savings incentive is currently operating, and is open to all council housing tenants. Those who join now and save regularly between now and November will receive a £25 boost to their savings.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported on Monday that one inner city debt advice centre had warned that incidents of people becoming embroiled with unscrupulous lenders - both legal and illegal - were on the rise as the effects of austerity and rising personal debt continue to hit vulnerable people.
Councillor Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member responsible for communities, said: “Protecting local communities from harm and helping to end poverty for Leeds residents are top priorities for the council so are we working closely with the Illegal Money Lending Team and Leeds City Credit Union amongst other partners to achieve these aims.
“Loan sharks often prey on some of the most vulnerable in society and we simply will not tolerate those who operate illegal money lending businesses backed up by threats and intimidation.
“In Leeds we are working hard to raise awareness of alternative forms of lending, such as credit unions, so people in desperate situations don’t feel they have to turn to loan sharks or other forms of high cost lending, like payday loans.”
MORE DEMAND FOR DEBT ADVICE
The number of people receiving debt advice in Leeds is on the rise.
According to figures from the Money Advice Service, 4,699 people received independent free debt advice in Leeds in 2015/16. That figure rose to 4,751 in the past year.
The numbers include providers such as Citizens Advice Leeds, Ebor Gardens, St Vincent’s and Better Leeds Communities. However researchers stress that the numbers could be the tip of the iceberg, and there could be many more people struggling silently with personal debt.