The dangers of loan sharks to be taught in schools

  • 3 March 2014
  • From the section Business
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Media captionExcerpt of cartoon which aims to teach children about loan sharks

School children in England are to have lessons warning them against using loan sharks.

The Illegal Money Lending Team (ILMT) in England is offering schools ready-made lessons designed to warn their pupils about the danger.

The educational packs, which include videos, have been funded by confiscated money from convicted loan sharks.

More than 2,500 primary and secondary schools have already expressed an interest.

Yeading Junior School in west London has been trialling the lessons, which have been developed to raise awareness about the dangers of loan sharks and help children manage their money wisely.

In one classroom, when asked what a loan shark was, hands shot up in the air.

"A loan shark is an illegal money lender who is friendly to you but then after a while they turn nasty and put interest on the money they lent out," piped up 10-year-old Ariana.

Colourful wall displays about various aspects of personal finance adorn classrooms and corridors throughout the primary school.

The school's ethos was admired by Cath Williams who is spearheading the lesson plans on behalf of the IMLT.

"It's key to teach kids about financial education. What these lesson plans do is look at things like needing something and wanting something and also the difference between debt and credit.

"Hopefully if we can get those basic skills right then people won't need to go to loan sharks in the future".

Image caption Lessons are being developed to raise awareness of how loan sharks operate
Image caption Colourful wall displays are made by the children

The benefits of the classes could be two-fold believes head-teacher Carole Jones.

"When the children go home with the knowledge that they have from the classroom and the skills that they have been using, they will inevitably talk about that and parents will be able to clue into what the children are talking about and in turn make alternative decisions for themselves."

It is estimated that 310,000 families use loan sharks, typically borrowing £350 at a time.

But as the debts escalate to thousands of pounds, it is thought borrowers are paying £700 million a year to unlicensed lenders.

While teachers and schools can play their part in trying to cut off demand for illegal money lenders, action to tackle the supply-side of the problem continues.

Since first piloted 10 years ago, the Illegal Money Lending Team has secured 308 prosecutions and managed to get £42m of illegal debt written off.

Image caption The IMLT also helps to expose illegal money lenders

Last week, following a tip-off to its 24/7 hotline the IMLT made an early morning knock on the door of a house in Welwyn Garden City.

Trading standards officers, accompanied by the police entered the property and systematically searched through drawers and cupboards for evidence of unlicensed lending practices.

Two hours later, carrying a large see-through plastic bag, Head of the Illegal Money Lending Team Tony Quigley seemed pleased with the haul.

"We've found some documentation and some cash, potentially in to the thousands (of pounds), which will now go to the local police station where we'll do further examination."

Three suspects were arrested and released on bail until 26 June 2014 while further enquires are carried out.

While the IMLT has managed to help more than 23,000 victims of loan sharks over the past decade, its mantra is clear: teach our children about the dangers of getting involved with illegal lenders and you can limit the damage.

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