Scheme to help taxi drivers avoid loan sharks

By on 18/07/2012 in News

After research has revealed self-employed people, including those in the taxi trade are prone to becoming victims of illegal money lenders, a pioneering scheme is being launched to encourage taxi and private hire drivers to turn away from loan sharks and look towards saving for the future.

The scheme, funded using proceeds of crime money taken from convicted illegal money lenders, is being piloted for drivers in Birmingham, Solihull and Walsall by the England Illegal Money Lending Team working in partnership with the three local Trading Standards Authorities, Licensing and local Credit Unions.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team have uncovered several cases of taxi and private hire drivers, and other self employed people being targeted by loan sharks. Research shows that 18 per cent of victims from past cases are self employed, with many people in this category struggling to obtain credit from mainstream 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 allow them to obtain credit from a safe and legal source when necessary.

A further benefit is the accessibility of the accounts. Drivers will be able to deposit into their saving accounts, at several Paypoints, many of which are open late at night. This then reduces instances where drivers are carrying large amounts of cash in their cabs.

Drivers will be encouraged to open credit union accounts, and the first 50 drivers from each local authority to sign up will be rewarded with a cash bonus of £15 if they continue to save for six months. This will be paid for using proceeds of crime money, taken from convicted loan sharks.

The scheme will be launched during an event in Birmingham today where drivers and company representatives will be encouraged to meet with the agencies involved to find out more about how this can benefit them. The event will also coincide with the unveiling of taxis displaying the hotline number- 0300 555 2222- for reporting loan sharks. These taxis are to be seen throughout Birmingham, Solihull and Walsall in the coming months.

The scheme will be endorsed by the Licensing Departments and Taxi Trade Associations. Licensing will be encouraging drivers to sign up when they visit to renew their licence or to access support, and representatives from the agencies involved will also be visiting local taxi ranks to speak to drivers.

Sign up days are also to be arranged at a convenient time to suit drivers.

Consumer Minister, Norman Lamb said:  “Loan sharks will use the most despicable tactics to force their victims into paying back far more than they have borrowed and above what they can afford. The England Illegal Money Lending Team is to be congratulated for cracking down on these crooks and putting the proceeds of their criminal activity to good use in local communities. I would echo the Team's clear message that loan sharks should be avoided at all costs and encourage those at risk to get involved with this scheme and start to save for the future.”

Cllr Barbara Dring, Chairman of the Licensing and Public Protection Committee at Birmingham City Council, which oversees the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “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.”

Councillor Zahid Ali, Portfolio holder for Public Protection from Walsall Council said, “I applaud the Illegal Money Lending Team on their work and this initiative.  Taxi drivers have a difficult enough job to do without being a target for these unscrupulous criminals.”

Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured over 210 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to 130 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
E-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk
Private message on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject
Log-on to www.direct.gov.uk/stoploansharks

Ends

Note to editors:

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 210 prosecutions leading to custodial sentences in excess of 130 years.

Sarah-Jane Lynch - Communications Officer
Illegal Money Lending Team - Trading Standards

Telephone: 0121 693 1030 or 07881617119
E-mail:  sarah-jayne.lynch@birmingham.gov.uk

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