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Vulnerable still prey for loan sharks

While most people would balk at mention of Christmas coming so early in the year and children only returned to school, there is one instance where it's important to mention the looming event. Budgeting is always difficult, in times of economic recovery, but it is people at the lowest end of the income bracket who tend to struggle the most in the lead-up to the festive season. And, unfortunately there are plenty of enterprising, legal and illegal lending businesses out there that will capitalise on this struggle.
For many years now there has been talk of a crackdown on the illegal lending trade. Back in 2013 Marc MacSharry (then Senator) published a bill (which unfortunately wasn't passed) to this end and countless others highlighted it as an area that needed to be addressed. However, we have seen very little action taken. Such individuals and gangs in society who prey on the poorest should surely be held accountable for their actions.
We are all familiar with the term 'loan shark', and the frightening, often grossly aggressive means they can employ to retrieve greatly inflated sums from their clients. But it can be surprisingly difficult to make the right choice in a market saturated with legal 'payday loans' companies and flashy internet advertising for high interest lending sites as well. Unregulated, illegal lending still exists, but almost as risky is the legal side of the same business.
With many of these legal money-lending companies loaning short-term, high interest amounts (often at APRs almost as high as a loan shark) advertising directly to the unemployed, or people with bad credit ratings and mortgage arrears, there is no doubt that they capitalise on late repayments. And though the legal side of the industry can't be said to exercise the same level of intimidation and bullying that illegal lenders are renowned for, that's not to say they have not been found to exert significant pressure on their clients when monies are not paid on time.
Credit Unions have long been recognised as a safe and responsible low interest alternative to traditional borrowing or high interest options, but as highlighted by Independent MEP Marian Harkin at the 25th anniversary conference of the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation, these community-based financial institutions are facing their own troubles. Currently, there are over 450 credit unions forced to place their surplus funds on deposit with banks at a rate of less than 1% rather than loan, at reasonable rates, to valid customers. Ms Harkin was clear in her message:
“The Credit Union movement must not be unnecessarily hindered in its hugely important work of credit provision and must instead be encouraged to use its experience and expertise to help citizens in Ireland avoid the clutches of extortionate moneylenders”
The manager of a local Credit Union reassures that despite tougher measures being implemented by the Central Bank, Credit Unions are still lending, and creating a sufficient saving record with them is not overly difficult. His advice to anyone facing into the expense of the approaching festive season is simple; "We encourage anyone who is in a position to do so to join their credit union and create a record with them... Moneylenders make it easy for people to get loans - the cost is, however, oppressive... If we could get one message across, it is that availing of credit from legal and illegal moneylenders may appear easy but the cost is more than 10 times normal credit and the greater cost is being tied into immoral and unjustified costs for many years."