North East Connected

Charity celebrates ten years at the forefront of ethical lending

A Durham-based charity is celebrating ten years of working with customers across the country on lower incomes to access loans for vital household goods.

Award-winning Smarterbuys Stores in Stanley originally began life to give social housing tenants access to cheaper credit for white goods, TVs and furniture before opening up its offering to work with all consumers in 2019, which immediately sparked a 50% increase in demand for its services.

Managing director Vicky McCourt, who helped establish Smarterbuys Stores as a charity in 2016, has seen a 235% surge in loan applications over the past year and has had to put a number of new measures in place to help customers struggling with their finances.

“Over the past ten years we have had to adapt and react to situations or current climates as an ethical business, and this year is no different,” she said.

“We have understandably seen enquiries and applications for loans and household goods rise exponentially in the last 18-months, and have helped so many of our customers who have been struggling financially due to the impact of the pandemic by extending payment holidays, freezing payments and providing repair help at no extra cost.

“I’m so incredibly proud of my team not only in helping us reach ten years in business, but also with their hard work and commitment to our customers in these unprecedented times.”

As well as providing household white goods and furniture, the company also offers solutions to short-term borrowing with saving schemes that won’t leave people facing years of staggering debt.

Ms McCourt added: “Our focus has always been on ensuring people have access to flexible, affordable and fair lending and want them to know our door is always open to them, physically or virtually and now that we are carefully coming out of national restrictions, the need is greater than ever to improve personal financial wellbeing long term.

“So to mark our ten-year milestone we have increased and adapted our Save as You Pay scheme which gives borrowers guaranteed cashback at the end of their agreement, which for many would be the first time they would have been able to save even the smallest amounts.

“The country may not quite be in a double-dip recession but it certainly feels like it as thousands of people’s jobs have been lost or their income has been reduced so our customer base continues to rise. We are doing everything we can to help make things easier for people and to encourage them to turn to us for help to stop people falling into dangerous waters with preying loan sharks or expensive pay-day loans.”

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