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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Voices from the poverty frontline
By Julian Knight
BBC News personal finance reporter

People living in poverty tell how they are disadvantaged by the lack of access to mainstream banks and forced to pay high interest rates for loans.

Ingrid Brown, 44 from south east London and mother of two

When the knock came at Ingrid's door it came as something of a relief. It was 3 January and Ingrid had Christmas bills to meet.

"It was a well known local man working for Provident Financial, the doorstep loan company.

"It is a difficult time of year and he offered me a 300 loan. Many friends of mine took loans out with the same agent."

Ingrid Brown
Ingrid Brown took out loans to pay for Christmas

Ingrid liked the personal touch of the loan company.

"They came into your home, the guy was so nice, no awkward questions were asked, all they want to know is will you be able to pay them back."

Ingrid didn't have a current account and as she was on benefits had no chance of a loan from a mainstream High Street lender.

"I knew it was expensive - 25 a week over 20 weeks - but what do you do when your washing machine is broken and you have a young family?

For the first time, later this year, I will be able to take my children on a family holiday
Ingrid Brown

"It seems to me that burden of poverty falls heaviest on those with children, they never seem to get out of the trap."

Ingrid, nevertheless, kept up her repayments and was "rewarded" with the offer of more loans.

"They knew that I was a good customer so they soon started to offer me more money over a longer period of time.

Yet Ingrid was determined not to be sucked too deep into the debt spiral.

"I stuck to my guns. I would only take a loan out after I had repaid the previous one and I only borrowed when money was very tight."

"Some people would pawn their jewellery or even the tools of their trade, which means they couldn't work. Once you go down that route there is no way out."

But after several years of taking out doorstep loans, Ingrid heard of the ATSC credit union, a local non-profit organisation offering low cost loans.

Free of paying high interest on loans, Ingrid was able to slowly but surely build up some savings with the credit union.

"I feel so happy when I see my savings balance every month. For the first time, later this year, I will be able to take my children on a family holiday."

Dana Hobbs, from south east London

Dana had a new job and needed to buy clothes for work, like Ingrid, she was approached by a doorstep lender.

"The agent didn't judge me, came to my own home and seemed interested in my situation.

"I had no option because I didn't have a current account or credit rating. I knew the rates were high but I wasn't going to do it for the rest of my life."

Dana Hobbs
Dana Hobbs says banks put barriers in the way of the poor

Dana started off with a 300 loan form a doorstep lender, then further "rollover" loans of 500 and 700.

Dana works and was able to pay back the loans she had taken out.

Recently, Dana was able to join the financial mainstream. She now has a bank current account and access to cheap loans, when needed, from her local credit union.

How is it that nearly one in five Britons live in poverty?

Dana, though, still sees friends and neighbours relying on doorstep loans.

She feels people on low incomes are barred from opening a bank account due to stringent identification requirements, designed to combat money laundering.

"Banks are asking people who rent and don't have regular lives to produce passports and driving licences and three utility bills, it's ridiculous."

"When people can't produce absolutely correct ID they are humiliated and treated like criminals by bank staff."

As for financial exclusion, Dana believes she knows the root causes.

"Britain is an unequal society and doorstep lenders, pawnbrokers even loan sharks will always be with us.

"If the social problem of poverty is properly tackled then this world will disappear.

"One thing I don't understand is if people are struggling through life then why are they punished by having to pay more?"

Gary Stevens, 39, unemployed from London

In 2002, Gary in his own words felt "untouchable" he had a wage coming in and a settled home life. Gary saw an advert in a national newspaper offering loans.

There seem few options for poorer people with money troubles apart from the pawnbrokers and loan sharks
Gary Stevens

"I decided to go for it, just 100 loan at first but then I was offered more money which I took.

"I wanted a few little luxuries such as a Playstation and the odd take away meal. I felt that having a job meant I deserved a few nice things."

Between 2002 and 2004 Gary built up a debt of 2,000, paying interest in excess of 30%.

Like Dana and Ingrid he found it tough to enter the financial mainstream and open a current account.

"I didn't have acceptable identification and the bank wasn't interested in me."

In 2004, Gary lost his supermarket job and with it his financial security.

Gary Steven
Gary Steven's finances went on the slide after he lost his job

"I wasn't able to make my repayments. I started to get aggressive letters from lenders and late payment penalties were imposed.

"I told the lenders I had a problem and they referred me to another credit firm which said it would take on my debt but at an even higher interest rate."

In just a few short months Gary's debt nearly doubled.

"These firms weren't interested in listening to me they just wanted to impose more and more penalties."

To keep up with his repayments Gary ended up selling his possessions. "I sold everything I had bought but the pawnbrokers gave me only a fraction of what I owed.

"There seem few options for poorer people with money troubles apart from the pawnbrokers and loan sharks."

"But I know that I am to blame for taking out the loan in the first place."

Gary is now seeking help from his local citizens advice bureaux.

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