We’re supporting Debt Awareness Week

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) is supporting StepChange Debt Charity’s annual campaign ‘Debt Awareness Week’ to open up the conversation around debt and encourage people who need help or advice to seek it out.

This year’s Debt Awareness Week will run from 22-28 March, marking a year since lockdown measures were first introduced and focusing on how the pandemic has affected household finances.

Stepchange estimates that the average person waits 12 months between realising they’re in financial trouble and getting debt advice for the first time, during which their situation can get even worse.

In the current uncertain economic climate, awareness of free and impartial debt advice matters more than ever. It can be hard to talk about money and debt. That’s why the IMLT is helping people to take #TheFirstStep by referring them to StepChange for free debt advice.

Whether you need debt advice, a way to get back on track after your circumstances have changed, or support with budgeting or managing a persistent debt, StepChange can help. They will provide free, impartial advice tailored to your individual situation either online or by telephone, and help you find a way to deal with their debts.

Don’t ignore debt problems

Falling behind with payments or struggling to pay for essentials can be scary and confusing. For those whose finances have been affected by coronavirus, it may be their first-time experiencing money worries – which adds to the uncertainty about what to do next.

If you have arrears on your debts, it’s important that you don’t ignore letters or emails from your creditors. You should always speak to the creditors you owe money to and avoid loan sharks.

Never borrow from loan sharks to get out of debt – Stepchange can provide advice or a free debt management plan (DMP).

Loan sharks still circling during pandemic

The latest IMLT data shows that loan sharks are still circling, despite lockdown measures. Victims are being harassed and threatened for money, and one in three reported a change in the relationship with the loan shark during the pandemic.

Reduced incomes have led to some people missing repayments, and facing resulting threats of violence, intimidation, and sexual coercion.

There are also concerns that more people are falling prey to unscrupulous lenders online. Criminals are using social media and dating apps to lure people into taking out extortionate loans and handing over personal information.

If you are having financial troubles, the worst thing you can do is borrow from a loan shark, no matter how bad your situation seems. We urge anyone with loan shark worries to access our services for advice and support. Charities such as Citizens Advice or Stepchange can also help with free advice about money problems, debt and budgeting.

Don’t fall into the loan shark trap

Loan sharks are illegal lenders who often target people in desperate circumstances. They may seem friendly at first but borrowing from them is never a good idea as they often resort to intimidation, threats or violence. They won’t give you much paperwork to confirm the arrangements they have made with you and you will never pay the loan off as they will keep adding interest.

Find out how to stay safe from loan sharks with our top tips:

  • Check the lender is authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). If not, don’t borrow from them – report them to Stop Loan Sharks.
  • Loan sharks have been known to advertise in community groups and on local selling pages. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Never send money or give card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
  • Remember, if you have borrowed money from a loan shark you haven’t broken the law, they have. The lender is the one committing a criminal offence.

Anyone who believes they might be the victim of a loan shark can contact the Stop Loan Sharks 24-hour confidential helpline on 0300 555 2222, email reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk or complete an online report form.  

There is also free, safe and anonymous support via Stop Loan Sharks Live Chat 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Just click the chat icon in the bottom right-hand corner to talk online to a support worker in real-time.

The Stop Loan Sharks app is free to download on both iOS and Android devices from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

If you’re worried about money, take #TheFirstStep and visit the StepChange website to find out how they could help: www.stepchange.org