North Wales police boss backs Conwy campaign to bite back at loan sharks

A police boss is backing a campaign to stop cash-strapped tenants falling victim to loan sharks and the sky high interest charged for pay day loans.

Winston Roddick CB QC, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, saw how tenants of housing association Cartrefi Conwy on the Ffordd Las estate, in Llandudno, are being helped to wise-up on financial matters.

Gary Jordan, Cartrefi Conwy’s assistant head of neighbourhood services, explained to Mr Roddick how they are working in partnership with Conwy Communities First to ensure tenants are not financially excluded.

He said: “We are working with our tenants to try and help them address their financial difficulties and concerns. One of our first tasks is to ensure we get as many tenants as possible to gain access to and open a bank account of their own.

“We are targeting those tenants that don’t pay their rent by direct debit and asking them if they have access to a bank account and if not whether we can help them open an account through one of the high street banks.

“It’s important tenants have access to a basic bank account and, at Cartrefi Conwy, we have now created a specialist incomes team with the addition of two Financial Inclusion Advisors and a Welfare Rights Officer working to help tenants with debt and income management issues.

“It is vital we help tenants avoid pay day loan companies, doorstep lenders and loan sharks who are going to charge exorbitant interest rates.

“We do work very closely with Communities First in getting our message across and ensuring tenants get the best possible advice when it comes to financial matters.”

According to Conwy Communities First project worker Sue Shingler, debt problems were the single biggest problem facing Ffordd Las tenants.

She said: “We have tenants who get into difficulty and will, sadly, borrow off anyone without thinking of the long term consequences. We are trying to educate people so they understand APR and interest rates and how they work.

“We are trying to help people avoid doorstop lenders, loan sharks and pay day loan companies and instead help people access the credit unions that are available to them.

“We are also trying to help people save money by looking closely at their utility bills and whether, by changing supplier, they can save money. Access to the Internet helps as people can compare prices and look for the better deals.

“We have also set up schemes such as a face book page for school uniform swaps. This is proving really popular and is helping families who cannot really afford to buy all the items of school uniform that they may need for their children in one hit.”

She added: “Working with Cartrefi Conwy we are also supporting people by getting them ready for work through our employment project as well as looking at new opportunities for employment as well as supporting people to maximise their income and resources by better managing their money and becoming more energy efficient.

“We have rolled out the same programme through other Cartrefi Conwy communities and feel we are having some real success.”

Mr Roddick says he is impressed at the work being carried out by Cartrefi Conwy and Communities First.

He said: “It is important tenants can access the right advice and learn of the serious difficulties that can arise through irresponsible lending particularly from doorstep lenders and loan sharks who charge exorbitant interest rates.

“Clearly the community is working together to address these issues and although, in the tough economic times, we are always going to have people falling into debt and making the wrong decisions when it comes to lending money, at least there is expert help and advice on hand.

“I think the setting up of credit unions is a key initiative and if we can, through Communities First and Cartrefi Conwy, encourage tenants to save when they can and use the credit union responsibly when and if they need to take out a small loan that has to be a step in the right direction.”

He added: “I have to say I’m very impressed with the efforts to Cartrefi Conwy to ensure their tenants do have access to the right financial help and advice. Clearly it’s an important and vital initiative.”

Cartrefi Conwy Director of Operations Gwynne Jones added: “We felt we could help tenants build a better community if we could help them avoid a few important financial pitfalls such as doorstep lenders and loan sharks.

“The work we are doing through our two financial inclusion advisors is important and is bearing fruit. If we can help tenants gain access to a basic bank account of their own with one of the high street banks that has to be a step in the right direction.”

“I feel it is important our tenants know that help is at hand should they develop serious debt issues.”

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