Fears over debt as more people could turn to loan sharks to cover Christmas
Experts have warned that unscrupulous lenders could try to cash in on the festive period as households struggle to cope with rising food, fuel and energy bills.
• Nearly one in ten people turned to loan sharks to cover the costs of Christmas last year.
• More than half of victims turned to illegal money lenders in order to pay for essentials such as utilities, food and fuel in the first half of 2022.
• New campaign #SleighNoToLoanSharks aims to protect communities from the devastating effects of illegal money lending in the run up to Christmas.
A report published by the Centre for Social Justice estimated that 1.08 million people could already be in debt to an illegal money lender. This is over 700,000 more people than the most recent official estimate.
Figures released by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) show that nearly one in ten of those who borrowed money from loan sharks last year did so to cover the costs of Christmas.
More than half of victims (52%) supported by the IMLT in the first half of 2022 had borrowed from a loan shark to pay for essentials such as food and fuel.
The figures come amid national warnings that the scale of household debt will continue to rise as financial pressures on households leaves many struggling to afford their monthly bills. The IMLT is working hard to combat the growth in illegal lending by focusing on prevention, awareness and enforcement activities.
The Centre for Social Justice reports that the greatest number of IMLT operations have taken place in the North West, owing to a large concentration of cases in Manchester, Lancashire, and the Merseyside area.
A new social media campaign, #SleighNoToLoanSharks, is being launched to alert people about the dangers of using loan sharks and help prevent them from falling into their traps in the run up to Christmas.
Councillor Jeanie Bell, St Helens Borough Council's Cabinet Member for Safer, Stronger Communities, said:
"Loan sharks pose a dangerous threat to our communities, now more than ever. They charge exorbitant interest rates and target the most vulnerable with aggressive and exploitative practices. The impact of illegal money lending is severe and far-reaching, with devastating consequences not just for the finances, but for the mental health and wellbeing of those affected. It's vital that local people understand the dangers of using loan sharks and the options they have if they are struggling."
Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said:
"Loan sharks are doing untold damage in local communities, and we must do all we can to stop them. With their ruthless tactics, these predators are threatening vulnerable families, driving them deeper into debt, and pulling entire communities into an endless cycle of despair.
"At a time when families are under extreme cost pressures with mounting living costs, we are deeply concerned that those who are already struggling to make ends meet could be targeted by these predatory lenders.
"Our campaign aims to break this cycle by helping people understand the risks of loan sharks, what they can do if they feel threatened and where they can turn for help and support.
"The Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline offers confidential advice and support to anyone affected by illegal money lending. We know how stressful and frightening this experience can be. We can give you support on how to deal with this problem and help find a way forward."
Follow these safety tips to protect yourself and loved ones from loan sharks:
1. If you're struggling to make ends meet and need cash fast, the thought of a loan shark might seem tempting, but remember these lenders are not your friends. Debt can quickly spiral out of control - it's important to think carefully before taking out a loan and consider other options.
2. Never send money or give credit card, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don't know or trust. This information is valuable so make sure you protect it from criminals who can use it to find and stalk you, harass you or threaten those you love.
3. If you're thinking about borrowing money, it's important to check that your lender is genuine. Loan sharks operate illegally without the correct permission from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Do your research first and check the firm or person you're dealing with is listed on the Financial Services Register.
4. When exploitative loan sharks are preying on hardship, it's vital for people to know there is an ethical, local, not-for-profit alternative available. Credit unions are a lifeline for many people, with their services helping members to save regularly, borrow responsibly and keep track of their finances. There are other community lenders who are mostly not for profit, and who reinvest any surpluses into serving vulnerable customers, which can be found on https://www.findingfinance.org.uk/
5. Getting trapped in a never-ending spiral of debt after borrowing from a loan shark can have devastating consequences, not only on your finances but also on most other aspects of your life, including your mental health, work and relationships with your family and friends. If you're worried about a friend or family member, or if you need help yourself, Stop Loan Sharks can offer confidential advice and support.
Are you worried about a friend or family member who is being taken advantage of by a loan shark? Contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline on 0300 555 2222 for support or visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk.
Live Chat is available on the website between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.