Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Crunch sparks credit union surge

A newspaper placard after the Lehman Brothers announcement last year
Thousands of jobs around the world have already been lost to the credit crunch

Credit unions in Wales say there has been a big surge in demand for loans amid the economic downturn, with many people refused help by the banks.

The unions, which offer savings, loans and other services, saw membership jump in the past three months.

The Robert Owen Montgomeryshire Credit Union in Newtown has seen a rise in applications for money from people seeking to rent homes.

People are also applying for loans to consolidate credit card debt.

Credit unions are co-operatives owned and controlled by their members and services include current accounts, child trust funds and individual savings accounts (ISAs).

The Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL) said each one had a "common bond" which determined who could join.

We've had a lot of people coming to us because they've been refused credit from the banks
Rina Clarke, Robert Owen Montgomeryshire Credit Union

Last month, ABCUL and The Co-operative Bank reported that membership of British credit unions had tripled in the past 10 years.

ABCUL said there had been a 400% hike in its loan and savings portfolio as well. One in four credit unions now has more than 2,000 members compared to 3% 10 years ago.

In Wales, three credit unions in mid, north and south Wales claimed the economic downturn had led to an increase in those seeking advice about coping with debt.

The unions are helping people from various backgrounds from those whose homes have been repossessed and businesses that have fallen on hard times to individuals who have been made redundant.

The Robert Owen Montgomeryshire Credit Union has 2,000 members, with 160 of those (8%) joining in the last three or four months.

There has also been an 8% rise in loan applications during the last few months.

Manager Rina Clarke said: "We've had a lot of people coming to us because they've been refused credit from the banks.

"We've had an increase in personal and business applications, and this has led to an increase in membership. Every week we have several new members.

"They are not guaranteed a loan, but we look at the applications differently to the banks and base decisions on income and expenditure.

"People have an in-depth interview and have to save with us for a period beforehand.

"We also offer financial advice and hold people's hands really, and try to educate them in some financial literacy."

The sort of people we are dealing with have suffered redundancy, a cut in working hours or a change to the benefits they receive
Delyth Shearing, Merthyr Tydfil Borough Credit Union

She added: "We've noticed people coming to us for more advice about the rented housing sector. There's been an increase in people losing their homes and those seeking rented accommodation."

Merthyr Tydfil Borough Credit Union was formed in 1998. Manager Delyth Shearing said she and her colleagues had been "extremely busy" for about 18 months.

Since July last year membership had increased by 187, which is up on the same time in 2007.

"We've seen an increase in people slow to repay their loans," said Ms Shearing.

"There's also been an increase in people seeking advice about coping with debt, those wanting advice about dealing with rent arrears, and a rise in inquiries for larger loans to consolidate debt.

"The sort of people we are dealing with have suffered redundancy, a cut in working hours or a change to the benefits they receive.

"We expect the amount of calls for advice to increase further in the next month or so."

David Collins manages Wrexham and Borough Credit Union which was established a year ago.

He too has seen membership numbers rise.

"We have 350 members and 60 of those have joined since December. That figure could be related to Christmas, but in the last three months there's been a sharp rise in loan applications," he said.

"People want somewhere safe to put their money and credit unions are ideal. We're not linked to the Bank of England, we're not affected by stock market fluctuations - we're totally independent.

"People can save a maximum of 10,000 with us and that's fully protected by the financial services compensation scheme.

"We also offer affordable loans. Banks are reluctant to lend at the moment and we don't have to have people with perfect credit histories."



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