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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 00:08 GMT
Tackling inner city loan sharks
By Douglas Marshall
BBC News, West Midlands

People living in central Birmingham are four times more likely than average to be near the bread line, according to the credit scoring agency Experian.

Those living in poorer communities often find it harder to get credit from High Street banks and can fall into the clutches of the loan sharks.

Consumer minister Ian McCartney
Minister Ian McCartney shows off weapons loan sharks have used

Two violent loan sharks are awaiting sentence for a string of crimes linked to their illegal money lending activities in Birmingham.

Father and son Lee and Christopher Walker bundled one victim into their car and drove him around the area "displaying him as a trophy" to others in their debt.

The man, who owed them money, was then attacked with a machete and a baseball bat.

Jacqui Kennedy, who heads a loan shark team in the city that has helped convict the Walkers, said the pair used tactics common among illegal lenders.

Other loan sharks even demanded sexual favours instead of payments, she said.

"A lot of people who go to loan sharks are desperate. A lot of people go to them because they don't know what a rip-off a loan shark is.

Some people don't know where else to go
Jacqui Kennedy,
Loan shark team

"In some cases loan sharks are even perceived as a community service."

Her team was set up, along with another one in Glasgow, in September 2004 and has since helped 1,265 victims of loan sharks find alternative loans.

She said part of her job was to educate those who might think borrowing from a loan shark was a good idea and direct them to credit unions and the Department for Work and Pensions, which provides emergency loans.

"Some of it is lack of understanding, some people don't know where else to go and some people don't know how much debt they are getting into," she said.

Needy times

Credit scoring agencies such as Experian help High Street banks to decide the risks of lending individuals money.

This often means that those living in areas such as central Birmingham, with its high number of people near the bread line, will find it hard to get credit in times of need.

I do think the banks have got a job here as well
Ian McCartney,
Consumer Minister

Consumer Minister Ian McCartney said the government was planning to widen the loan shark teams to work in cities such as Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.

But he said the government wanted High Street banks to help.

"I do think the banks have got a job here as well as us."

He said he believed poor people were just as likely to pay back loans as those who were in higher wage brackets.

"I cannot believe the banks cannot put schemes together working with the local authorities and the credit unions," he said.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Loan sharking is illegal



SEE ALSO
Financial stress 'worst in north'
15 Feb 07 |  Business
Loan shark used machete over debt
15 Jan 07 |  West Midlands

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