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Bid to tackle scourge of moneylenders makes a lot of sense

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For too long, moneylenders have been given a free run.

This has allowed them to flourish. Back in 2013, research conducted for the Central Bank estimated that there were 360,000 customers of moneylenders.

That number has probably risen to 400,000 now.

There is a rich irony in the fact that the moneylender sector is mushrooming in a country that probably has one of the most extensive networks of credit unions in the world.

And credit unions should be the natural choice for those unable to get credit elsewhere.

But the community lenders have been hamstrung in a number of ways.

Half of them have lending restrictions imposed on them by the Central Bank. Other regulatory rules mean there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in getting a loan.

Many of those taking out moneylender loans do not have a credit union account, never mind a bank account.

This has meant that credit unions are unable to compete with moneylenders. This is despite credit unions charging no more than 12pc for a loan, compared with up to 188pc charged by moneylenders.

Not before time, there will now be a viable alternative to moneylender loans, with the credit unions playing a role.

Later this year a new initiative is to be launched to provide hassle-free loans to low- to middle-income families. The new personal microcredit scheme is the result of work by the Social Finance Foundation, a body funded by the banks and set up to provide lending to financially excluded groups.

The Department of Social Protection and bodies it funds, such as MABS, are heavily involved in this initiative.

The idea is that people who normally use moneylenders will instead be able to go to the credit union for a microloan. There would likely be a one-hour turnaround for loans, and no credit checks.

Nor would there be any need for the loan application to be approved by the credit union's credit committee.

The average loan size would be €500, to be paid back over a year.

Interest rates of no more than 12pc would be imposed, a far cry from the 188pc that licensed moneylenders are allowed to charge.

The big downside is that there would be no one calling to the door offering a loan, as moneylenders do.

The aim is to have 40,000 microloans issued a year. That will not wipe out moneylenders, but it will damage their business.

Irish Independent