A NEW campaign against illegal money lenders in and around Chester has been launched.
Cheshire West and Chester Council is cracking down on the problem in the borough with a pioneering new campaign.
Loan sharks create misery for hundreds of families across west Cheshire by offering unaffordable high-cost credit – often accompanied by threats, intimidation and violence should a payment be missed.
The campaign will see local organisations, including Cheshire Police, Citizens Advice Bureau and West Cheshire Credit Union, working together to ensure local residents are aware of the real alternatives to borrowing money from a loan shark and encouraging people to name those operating in the area.
Ellesmere Port and other parts of west Cheshire remain among the worst affected areas in the country by both legal and illegal high cost lending and a free phone line has been set up so residents can now report concerns without fear of reprisals.
Cllr Lynn Riley, executive member for localities, said: “Preying on residents who often only want to borrow a small amount of cash, loan sharks add despicable amounts of interest on, hold no paperwork, and back up their demands with threats and violence.
“We want West Cheshire residents struggling with debt to know there are alternatives. West Cheshire Credit Union, a non-profit making organisation, can be a lifeline to struggling residents and ploughs money straight back into the community, while CAB can offer support on how to manage debt.
“We want to encourage victims to work with us to identify and put a stop to these illegal activities that result in misery, stress and heart-breaking upset. All information is treated with the strictest confidence.
“So please don’t struggle on alone, making a bad situation even worse; call us we are here to help.”
The six-month campaign, which will be trialled in Ellesmere Port, has been designed by Birmingham City Council’s Illegal Money Lending Team, which received government funding to support anti-loan shark campaigns throughout the north west.
Council and partner organisations have received training on how to spot a loan shark, and how to support and advise those who have become victims of illegal money lending.
Flyers, posters, information packs, keyrings and trolley tokens are being distributed throughout the town and a confidential line has now been set up for local residents to report those who they believe may be involved in illegal money lending.
If successful, the campaign could be rolled out borough-wide.
Ellesmere Port councillor Justin Madders, said: “In order to tackle loan sharks it is vital the community comes together to report their activities. We hear stories of these people even venturing up to people at the school gates to ingratiate themselves with their next victim. These people are ruthless, manipulative and without an ounce of compassion.
“Once they have their hooks into someone they don’t want to let go but it is up to us to give people the confidence and courage to know that if the loan sharks are reported they will be stopped.
“Loan sharks have a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities and our Trading Standards Service and the illegal money lending team are dependent on information from those affected in order for this to be tackled.
“If people wish to contact the team or even myself in confidence I can assure you your anonymity will be protected.”
People can seek advice and report a loan shark by phoning the Illegal Money Team Helpline on 0300 555 2222 or by visiting the Directgov website www.direct.gov.uk/ stoploansharks
Credit Unions operating within the borough are West Cheshire Credit Union www.wccu.co.uk and Neighbours Credit Union www.merseymoney.org.uk/Cheshire-Neighbours-Credit-Union/home