A campaign was launched on Tuesday (March 21) to raise awareness of loan sharks and to reduce illegal money lending in Chester-le-Street.

The Money Works, which is delivered by housing provider Cestria Community Housing, has teamed up with England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) to launch a campaign that will help raise awareness of loan sharks and signpost victims to the appropriate help and support available.

The IMLT are a law enforcement agency who investigate and prosecute loan sharks. They have a dedicated team of LIAISE officers who provide help and support to local residents that may be affected by illegal money lenders.

The initiative was launched at the Cestria Hub on Front Street yesterday morning with ‘Sid the Shark’. Throughout the day, a team of officers visited local neighbourhoods in Chester-le-Street to distribute information leaflets and speak to residents about the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders.

The Money Works initiative began in December 2016 to raise awareness of a range of financial issues including debt, benefits, utilities, employability, digital inclusion and budgeting; all to help residents solve their money worries.

The free, confidential service is accessible by telephone, email, website and by dropping into the Cestria Hub on Front Street where members of the team hold a free advice surgery every Monday from 9am – 5pm and a debt surgery every Tuesday afternoon between 1.30pm – 4.30pm.

Suzanne Jobson, Financial Inclusion Manager at Cestria Community Housing, said: “We are committed to supporting our tenants by raising awareness of the help and support that is available as an alternative to borrowing money from illegal lenders.  Loan sharks trap borrowers into a spiral of debt, often resorting to extreme methods of intimidation, threats and violence to enforce repayment.

“Loan sharks are not welcome in Chester-le-Street, we are working in partnership with IMLT and the Police to target these criminals and we want residents to know there is an alternative to borrowing from a loan shark.

“Plans are already underway to organise a Week of Action in the summer which will give residents the opportunity to speak to members of the IMLT and the Police but also encourage them to budget and promote the benefits of saving with the Credit Union.”   

Tony Quigley, Head of Service for the England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) said: “We are pleased to be working with The Money Works and Durham Constabulary to combat loan sharks in Chester-le-Street.

“Illegal money lending is a despicable crime which causes nothing but harm to our communities. These lenders may appear to be offering a community service but borrowers are often forced to pay back far and above what they have borrowed and can afford.”

If you are a victim of illegal money lending or need to speak to somebody about advice and support around debt and borrowing money, please contact The Money Works Team in confidence by calling freephone 0800 587 0001, text 07919 044 314, email advice@themoneyworks.org.uk or visit www.themoneyworks.org.uk.  You can also drop in at The Hub on Front Street to speak to a member of staff.

To report a loan shark, please contact the England Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence on their 24-hr confidential hotline 0300 555 2222 or via their website www.stoploansharks.co.uk  Your call will be handled by a trained IMLT officer and all information will be treated in the strictest confidence.