North East housing association, Bernicia, has won a national award in recognition of its work to tackle loan sharks targeting tenants and communities.

Bernicia was honoured by the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) for its initiatives raising awareness of loan sharks in the North East and making communities safer.

The IMLT investigates and prosecutes illegal money lenders while supporting those who have borrowed money from a loan shark.

It has awarded Bernicia its ‘partner recognition accreditation’ from the England Illegal Money Lending Team.

The new accreditation programme recognises and rewards partners that work alongside IMLT to raise awareness of loan sharks, their impact on local communities and to create safer spaces for people to live and work.

“Our rent teams have identified people who have been victims of illegal money lenders and we then work with them to support them towards help and solutions,” said Steven Adey, Bernicia Head of Housing.

“These loan sharks are a scourge on society and we do all we can to help stop people going to them for finance, offered at extortionate rates which can plunge people into even more unmanageable debt.

“We encourage people to look towards credit unions who can help with savings and offer loans, often for the small sums people need, which can be paid back at an affordable rate which gives people security and peace of mind.

“Before considering going to a loan shark, we would urge our tenants to speak to us first and we will help them, signposting them to the support that is available.

“I’m proud of our team and winning this award is just recognition for the work they do to help people out of the most extreme of financial pressures.”

Loan sharks are increasingly using social media platforms to advertise their illegal loans and target potential victims.

A recent campaign by IMLT, called #SharkFreeSurfing, ran across the Stop Loan Sharks and Bernicia social media platforms, with the aim of encouraging not just victims, but the wider community to report online illegal money lending activity.

Tony Quigley, Head of England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “We would like to congratulate Bernicia on its partner recognition award and thank them for their outstanding efforts tackling loan sharks.

“We are extremely grateful for the support of our partners across the country and rely on them to act as our eyes and ears in communities. By working together, we can stamp out illegal money lending and protect residents from this awful crime.

“We continue to encourage people to come forward if they know of or have been a victim of loan sharks. You are not alone and we will support you.”

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 at www.stoploansharks.co.uk. Live Chat is available on the website from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.