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“Restoring the Balance: Tackling problem debt”, a Centre for Social Justice report, found that two million people are driven to high-cost credit every year because it is the only loan they can get. A network of new Community Banks should be created across the country as an alternative to high cost credit driving millions of people into problem debt, according to a major new report.


The report builds on the debt work the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) did in its landmark publication Breakthrough Britain, which Prime Minister David Cameron recently singled out has having a major influence on his Government. And it comes just days after plans were announced to cap the amount of interest payday lenders can charge – a move criticised by the CSJ, which argues that it could add to the 300,000 people already going to loan sharks.


The report’s major findings and suggestions include:

∙ Cut red tape to create new Community Banks for cheaper loans and banking facilities
∙ More than 300,000 people in the UK are too poor to go bankrupt because they cannot afford the £525 fee
· 8 million British households have no savings – one of the lowest savings rates in the EU
· Employers should help staff save with new auto enrolment scheme
· Recent payday loan cap could push thousands to loan sharks


Household debt in the UK has almost doubled in a decade to £1.44 trillion and around seven million people use high-cost credit, such as payday loans. The study says problem debt drives poverty and a range of entrenched social problems.


Almost half of people with unmanageable debt report that it impacts on their health. One survey suggested that a third of the 1.5 million debt advice clients has attempted or contemplated suicide. Three quarters also say their relationships have suffered as a result of debt, with one quarter saying their relationships ended completely.


Christian Guy, CSJ Director said, “there is a growing group of people under intense pressure as a result of problem debt.” 


“This debt rips into families and traps people on the edges of our society…people in poorer communities are effectively excluded from mainstream banking – hit hard by punitive fees, penalties and crippling debt.”


Red tape holding back successful credit unions should be torn up so that they can be reborn as ethical Community banks offering more stable loans and banking services at cheaper rates and on better terms.


This is part of a major package of personal debt reforms put forward today by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) that will bring fairer banking to Britain’s poorest communities and challenge the monopoly of mainstream banks and payday lenders.


Credit unions currently serve more than a million customers lending a total of £600 million. Because of current regulations, however, unions are limited and often unable to serve the poorest in society who would most benefit from them.


But with reform and the transformation of the bigger and best managed unions into Community Banks, they could potentially help up to eight million people in a market worth as much as £3.5 billion.


One major benefit is these new Community Banks would be able to offer smaller loans commonly handed out by payday lenders, but with much lower interest rates and better conditions.


To do this the CSJ wants to see a number of credit union regulations stripped back. This includes relaxing membership rules, removing interest rate caps for small loans and allowing them to invest members’ deposits to generate income.


The Community Bank status will only be available to select credit unions who have been run well and would benefit from operating on a larger scale. The CSJ estimates there would be around a dozen of these banks across the country initially.


Researchers say the package – which includes using peer-to-peer social investment to help expand community finance – would help many of the two million people every year who turn to high-cost credit.