Shropshire credit union first in the country to scoop national award

Sid the Shark presents award to Mark Perez, who chairs Just Credit Union at Wrockwardine Wood Junior School in Telford

A credit union in Shropshire is the first organisation in the country to win a prestigious award for its work raising awareness of the dangers of loan sharks.

Just Credit Union has been awarded Partner Plus status as a recognition for its continued commitment to tackling loan sharks in the county and delivering safe, responsible and sustainable financial products for its members.

The Partner Recognition scheme celebrates the outstanding work of organisations that are helping to combat illegal money lending and make their communities safer.

Just Credit Union, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, has been upgraded to Partner Plus – the highest level of partnership offered by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT).

The upgrade to Partner Plus will allow the credit union to continue its fight against loan sharks through awareness campaigns and financial education programmes in schools.

The glass trophy was presented to credit union staff by the England Illegal Money Lending Team’s national mascot – Sid the Shark, who visited Wrockwardine Wood Junior School on Monday, June 13.  

The credit union has been running sessions at schools across Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin to educate children on the dangers of loan sharks, how to borrow money safely and how to protect themselves and their families against unscrupulous lenders.

Karen Farrow, Chief Officer of Just Credit Union, said: “We are very proud to be the first organisation in the country to win this award. The work we have carried out over the years has helped protect many vulnerable families from being exploited by predatory loan sharks.

“Just Credit Union has been championing ethical finance in Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin for 20 years. Our mission is to create a better financial future for our communities.

“We believe in fair access to affordable credit and the ability for everyone to control their finances. So, we will continue doing what we do best, putting members first and providing ethical, reliable financial services at an affordable price.”  

Tony Quigley, Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “Our Partner Recognition scheme highlights organisations that have shown remarkable effort to protect their service users from loan sharks, as well as successfully supporting people who have been subjected to this vicious cycle of debt.

“Our reach would not be as far without the hard work and dedication of our partner organisations and supporters, giving their time and energy every day to stop loan sharks and protect people from these harmful practices.

“Just Credit Union have been a brilliant partner to work with and they have continually gone above and beyond to stamp out loan sharks in their county. They have now been upgraded to Partner Plus level for all their hard work.”

Loan sharks are criminals who target vulnerable people, charging them extortionate interest rates and threatening them with violence or harm to their family if they do not pay back their loan. This crime causes severe financial, social and psychological harm to individuals and families.

A recent report published by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) estimated that as many as 1.08 million people could be in debt to loan sharks in England, with some lenders demanding sexual favours as repayment from borrowers.

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 give 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. 

Local residents, charities, community and voluntary groups, schools and statutory agencies can apply for grants of up to £5,000 for activities that highlight the dangers of loan sharks.

The Stop Loan Sharks Community Fund is made available from money seized from convicted loan sharks under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA). Organisations will need to demonstrate the positive impact their project would have on their community and how it will help tackle loan sharks.

Find out more about the grants and apply here.

The closing date for applications is Thursday, 30th June 2022.

If you or someone you know has been affected by illegal money lending, you can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222 or contact us using our secure reporting form. Live chat is available on the website between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Find out how your organisation can apply for Stop Loan Sharks Partner Recognition and access great benefits here.