A scheme has been launched to help taxi drivers avoid becoming victims of loan sharks.
Funded by the proceeds of crime confiscated from convicted money lenders, the scheme is organised by the England Illegal Money Lending Team, Newcastle City Council’s Trading Standards and Moneywise Credit Union.
It follows research which showed that self-employed people are increasingly falling prey to illegal money lenders as the credit crunch bites.
The England Illegal Money Lending Team have uncovered several cases of hackney carriage and private hire drivers, and other self employed people being targeted by loan sharks. Research shows that 18% of victims from past cases are self employed, with many people in this category struggling to obtain credit from legitimate sources.
For drivers, whose costs can average up to £3,392 a year, the scheme will be highly beneficial allowing them to save to pay for the costs of running the cab, and any other unexpected expenditure. It will also enable them to obtain credit from a safe and legal source when necessary.
Another benefit is the accessibility of the accounts. Drivers will be able to deposit into their saving accounts, at various paypoints. This reduces the risk of drivers carrying large amounts of cash in their cabs.
Drivers will be encouraged to open credit union accounts, and the first 50 drivers to sign up will be rewarded with a cash bonus of £20 if they continue to save for 12 weeks. This will be paid for by proceeds of crime money, taken from convicted loan sharks.
The council’s licensing section will be encouraging drivers to sign up when they renew their licence or request support. Representatives from the agencies involved will also be visiting local taxi ranks to speak to drivers.
Information on the scheme and how to avoid loan sharks will be provided for new drivers in their starter packs, in leaflets and on a website and posters in reception areas.
The scheme was officially launched by the Deputy Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Joyce McCarty, when drivers and company representatives met with the agencies involved to find out how the scheme can benefit them.
Councillor McCarty said: “Many families are really struggling at the moment as they get deeper and deeper into debt.
“Loan sharks are only interested in their own financial gain and will quite happily exploit taxi drivers with exorbitant rates of interest.
"I welcome this credit union which will give access to low interest loans and help families keep their heads above water until the economic climate improves.”
Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team: “Loan sharks are a scourge on our communities. They may appear friendly at first but they cause nothing but misery.
“We’ve seen loan sharks increase the debt and add exorbitant rates of interest, leaving people with little or nothing to get by on.
“We’ve also seen lenders resort to extreme methods such as violence, threats and intimidation to enforce the debt.
“Through schemes like this we are keen to show that there are safe and legal alternatives available, and that loan sharks are never the answer. We would urge anyone who is involved with a loan shark to call us in confidence on 0300 555 2222”
Chief Executive of Moneywise Credit Union Andrew Breese said “Owning and running a taxi is an expensive and difficult profession as it is without the added burden of illegal lending.
"The credit union encourages budgeting and saving and it is surprising how quickly savings grow with regular commitment. By recognising annual costs and planning effectively taxi drivers can be confident staff at moneywise will be on hand to offer support.”
Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured over 212 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 132 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off almost £40 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 18,000 victims.
To report a loan shark:
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222
Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003
Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject
Log-on to www.direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks
To contact Moneywise Credit Union:
Call 0191 276 7963, 0191 276 7957 or 0191 211 6983
Log-on to www.moneywise.org.uk
Office opening hours 10:00am - 4:30pm Monday to Friday
Funded by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, the Stop Loan Sharks Project consists of three Illegal money lending teams; England, Scotland and Wales.
Working in partnership with local Trading Standards Authorities up and down the country, the England Team consists of specialist officers who investigate and prosecute illegal money lending and related activity and LIAISE officers who support victims and raise awareness of the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders. The project piloted in 2004, and expanded in 2007.
So far the project has secured more than 212 prosecutions leading to custodial sentences in excess of 132 years.
Page last updated: 3 September, 2012