Cheshire mum speaks out after she was driven to the brink of suicide by a ruthless loan shark

*Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of the victim.

Families struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living are being warned of the dangers of loan sharks.

It’s a horror story that has become all too familiar. Recent estimates from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) suggest that more than a million people could already be in debt to an illegal lender, with the issue becoming increasingly prevalent across the UK.

Now, one mother from Cheshire – Kelly* – has bravely spoken out in a new video produced by the England Illegal Money Lending Team to reveal how she was driven to the brink of suicide and trapped in a vicious cycle of debt by a merciless loan shark.

Kelly’s still terrified of the people who threatened her and her family, so we are protecting her identity. She is determined to share her story to raise awareness of the perils of loan sharks and ensure others don’t fall into the same trap.

Kelly’s world was turned upside down when she was introduced to the loan shark through a friend who offered to lend her £100. She was desperate for help and needed money to feed and clothe her growing children.

When the £100 loan arrived instantly in Kelly’s bank account, she thought it was too good to be true. Little did she know that her nightmare had only just begun. The loan was not formalised in any way, and she had no paperwork outlining the terms of the agreement.

When the woman named Shirley* offered to help with a loan, it seemed like the answer to all of Kelly’s problems – but she soon realised it came at a high cost. The lender became abusive, controlling and demanded huge sums of money from Kelly.

Kelly was shocked when Shirley demanded a £325 repayment on the loan which she couldn’t afford to repay. But when interest began to mount, it all went wrong. With unmanageable repayments, the debt quickly spiralled out of control.

When Kelly accepted the loan for £100 from Shirley, she didn’t imagine what it could end up costing her or that it would plunge her family into unmanageable debt. She was trapped, afraid, full of regret, and forced to take out more loans to repay the existing debt.

Kelly was struggling to make ends meet and had no other option but to rely on free school meal vouchers to feed her four children. The loan shark demanded more and more money, making their lives a misery.

About £900 of her monthly salary of £1,048 was going straight to the loan shark, but the debt continued to grow, and the financial pressure took its toll on Kelly’s health and mental wellbeing.

Kelly’s situation had become intolerable. She felt isolated from her friends, and she feared repercussions on her family if she didn’t pay back the loan shark. She frequently thought about taking her own life as a way to escape from the debt.

She said: “I was quite withdrawn. No one knew what I was going through. The only way I could see myself getting out of that mess was to ring social services and get my kids put into care and then just go and jump off a bridge.”  

Kelly was already struggling to keep up with the payments on her loan and began receiving mysterious funds in her account each month. It turned out they were deliberate payments from the loan shark to keep Kelly under her control and trapped in a spiral of debt.

Marie knew something was wrong when she found her best friend Kelly was acting differently and trying to hide money problems from her. Kelly had been forced to pay every penny of her wages to the loan shark, meaning she had no money left over to cover rent or bills. Marie was worried about the family as they were close to facing eviction, and she desperately wanted to help her friend.

When Marie heard about Kelly’s situation, she knew that something had to be done – and fast. Marie helped Kelly tell her housing officer about the loan shark and got her the support she needed.

Kelly had fallen victim to a crime and was referred to the England Illegal Money Lending Team – Stop Loan Sharks for specialist support. The team stepped in to stop the harassment and helped Kelly and the family get their lives back.

Kelly was left in tears after discovering the true extent of her debt. She had borrowed £2,500 and repaid an extortionate £26,000 to the loan shark over two years – 10 times her original loan.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) are a dedicated team of specialist officers tasked with tracking down loan sharks and providing support to victims.

The IMLT provided emotional and practical support to 400 victims of illegal money lending in the first six months of this year – and they’ve never been in greater demand.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of loan shark victims in England were introduced to the lender by friends or family, and over half (56%) had considered the loan shark a friend before borrowing from them.

Cath Williams, LIAISE Manager at the England Illegal Money Lending Team said: “Loan sharking is a horrific crime that has devastating effects on the lives of both borrowers and their families, as well as on entire communities.

“Sadly, Kelly’s story is not uncommon. We see many people who have been coerced into loans with high-interest rates and charges that are impossible to escape. As the debt grows and their financial situation worsens, this can exacerbate feelings of isolation and despair, resulting in a vicious cycle of extortion and abuse for victims.

“We all need to work together to clamp down on this issue, help those at risk and stop these predatory lenders from hurting others. Thanks to the help provided by Marie and the housing association, Kelly was able to get the specialist support she needed to escape this terrifying trap.”

If you’ve found yourself in a situation like Kelly’s or you are worried about someone you know, it’s important to remember that you are not alone and Stop Loan Sharks is here to help you.

Call our Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 Helpline on 0300 555 2222 or fill in our secure online form to request support. There is a confidential live chat service available on our website between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Warning signs to indicate that you could be dealing with a loan shark include giving no paperwork upon the agreement of a loan, refusing to provide detailed information about a loan, intimidation and threats, taking items such as a bank card or passport until the debt is paid, and taking things from you if you do not pay on time.