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Croydon loan stores: Is it too easy to borrow money?

STORES handing out 'instant' loans are taking over Croydon and, as Rachel Millard discovered, getting hold of hundreds of pounds is easy. But with huge interest rates potentially dragging people into more debt, we ask – is it too easy? RACKING up high-interest debt in Croydon could take a matter of minutes, an Advertiser investigation has discovered.

We managed to reach agreements to borrow nearly £900 of payday loans on a trainee reporter's salary, in just two hours hopping between the high street loan shops that have mushroomed in recent years.

With interest rates of up to £2.01 per day, that would mean hundreds of pounds would potentially have been owed by the time the next payslip hit the doormat.

And lenders did not ask many questions about our ability to repay, beyond a quick credit check.

At Speedy Cash in Tamworth Road we were told: "We are going to give you the most that we can, so you will leave here with the absolute maximum."

It may have been an experiment for us but for many, that tempting, easy cash can lead to months or years of debt.

Helen Mason, operations manager of the Croydon, Merton and Sutton Credit Union, said more and more people are turning to the union for help after getting into payday loan debt.

She said: "They give people the impression they are convenient and fast and that is why a lot of people go to them because they get them out of a hole.

"They are very accommodating and very helpful, but the longer term result is people are saddled with debt.

"The problem is people think yes, that is fine, and they are so relieved. They think, 'I will deal with this when it happens'.

"Then they cannot pay it back and it goes on and on."

Councillor Vidhi Mohan, cabinet member for economic regeneration, said he was "not very happy" about the borough's loan shops, but added the council's powers were "limited".

They typically need planning permission for financial use but their licences to trade are granted by the Government.

Cllr Mohan said: "I think the long-term solution is to encourage a proper mix of businesses, to ensure proper economic growth and make sure that there are jobs, so people are not encouraged to go to these lengths.

"If people's financial situation improves, the motivation to go to these companies goes down."

Selhurst councillor Timothy Godfrey said financial difficulties featured in all his casework and loan shops were a cause for concern.

He said: "I would like to see more support for alternatives such as the Credit Union.

"Would it not be fantastic for the Credit Union to have a premises on the high street to counter some of the loan shops?

"If we could have one, for example, in South Norwood and one in New Addington, that would be better. We can push loan shops off the high street but they will still be online."

The Croydon, Merton and Sutton Credit Union, based in Taberner House in Croydon, offers a less expensive way of borrowing. In 2011/12, the union gave out 695 loans, averaging at £1,104 each. Borrowing £300 with the credit union could cost £6.79 over 12 weeks; £13.15 over 24 weeks; £28.30 over one year; and £57.74 over two years. Borrowers need to be members and are encouraged to save regularly. Membership costs £5 if you are working, £1 if not. Operations manager Helen Mason said: "We do ask more questions than a payday loan company because we are bound by our rules not to get you into more debt. "We will then make the payments according to how you can manage it." To contact or join the CMS Credit Union, call 020 8760 5711, visit www.cmscu.co.uk or email cu-manager@btconnect.com
Reporter Rachel Millard visited five loans shops during one afternoon and, armed with one, outdated payslip, walked away with offers for three high-interest loans, totalling around £900. Here, she tells of her loan-shopping experience... I started at the CHEQUE CENTRE, in High Street, Purley, where I provided proof of address, bank details and a payslip. After completing a credit check, I am told I can borrow £300 based on my take-home pay of £1,072 monthly. The salesman explains that will cost me £25 per £100, meaning I will owe £375 when I next get paid on March 14. If I cannot pay that, he says the loan can be 'rolled over' three times, for a fee of £50. He added that my credit limit will increase whenever I pay on time, so I could always borrow again as soon as paying one off. At SPEEDY CASH at the corner of North End and Tamworth Road, I am offered a loan of £268. That will cost me 75p per day per £100, or £2.01 per day for that loan. I can pay it back any day. If I pay the whole loan plus interest on my next payday, that would be £340. However, the costs quickly mount up if I cannot pay that. If I wanted to pay over a year, I would end up paying £1,502.58. At H & T PAWNBROKERS in George Street, I am told that I cannot apply for a loan without my most recent bank statement. At neighbouring OAKAM I am approved for a loan of £300. I am offered a payment scheme over six months that would see me pay a total back of £486. However, the offer was provisional on the condition I provided references. At CASH & CHEQUE EXPRESS in Surrey Street, I am told the maximum they would offer a first time customer would be £83. They refer me to a loan company for anything more. They also suggest I could get more by loaning against my car. We contacted the three loan stores that offered our reporter money. Frederic Nze is the chief executive of Oakam, based in Dingwall Road, Croydon, with 15 stores nationwide. He said: "I can understand there is a change in the high street with lenders trying to fill space where the banks are closing their doors. Five years ago probably everyone had a credit card or an overdraft, so in fact it is becoming a bit more difficult [to get a loan]." He added that his company specialises in lending amounts of £2-300 to people with small salaries and little to no debt history. Its loans can be paid back by the day, offering a what he deemed a convenient alternative to bank overdrafts. He added that it was sometimes 'patronising' to think borrowers did not know what they were getting into. "Our customers all know what it means to borrow say £200. Yes, there is temptation to take on money at any price, and our responsibility is to give advice. "But customers stay with us and have been with us for years now." A Cheque Centre spokesman said the popularity of its loans was 'reflected in the number of stores that have opened'. He said: "Our aim is to be a responsible lender, and we are always adapting our procedures to improve our lending practices." He added: "We are never complacent about financial hardship, we have been working with the Government to introduce more consumer protections. "A small proportion of our customers will see circumstances change and find themselves unable to repay. When they contact us we can provide help by freezing their debt, giving them time to get organised and directing them to free debt advice." Speedy Cash had not responded to requests to comment as the Advertiser went to press.

Croydon loan stores: Is it too easy to borrow money?

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