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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:30 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

Shelagh Barlow

Shelagh Barlow took out a loan with Loansathome4U

A doorstep loans company is offering high interest loans to some of the most vulnerable people in Anglesey.

Loansathome4U’s APR can be as high as 632 per cent.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau on the island says it’s dealing with numerous cases of vulnerable people who have taken out loans from the company and are now struggling to pay them back.

Shelagh Barlow has serious mental problems, but this didn’t stop Loansathome4U offering her a £200 loan at almost 400 per cent APR when she was round at a friend’s house.

She told us: “I was introduced, round the table, and I filled out a form that she gave me, and I signed the agreement there and then, £200 cash.

“They gave me it on the basis I was on benefits, disability, incapacity and mobility, and therefore I was on a certain amount and could afford it as far as they were concerned.”

Without documentary proof of her income or outgoings, Shelagh was given the loan there and then. On the form that was filled out it says she’s a housewife but then it goes on to contradict this – stating that she is also in full time employment and earning £200 a week.

After she took out the loan, agents came on a weekly basis to collect her payments but then they started offering her top up loans and she found herself borrowing another £300, then another £200.

Then her financial situation took a turn for the worse. Her benefits were reviewed and her Disability Living Allowance was almost halved to £37 a week.

Shelagh told us: “It was like a third of my money, paying them off, so a third of my money was gone.” Then she had to go into hospital for six weeks to have a serious operation. She said: “I didn't have an account for direct debit or anything, I only had a basic account, so I couldn't, obviously, I wasn't going to send money.”

Shelagh tells us the company’s agents were phoning her while she was recuperating from her operation and even left a very abusive voicemail on her mobile phone.

She decided to turn to Citizens Advice Bureau for help.

Sally Heywood from CAB told us: “I am really concerned that Loansathome4U are lending to severely vulnerable people, and what I've seen, is the tip of the iceberg.

“[Benefits are] awarded because [people] have severe care and mobility needs that have to be provided by another individual so, for me, it is morally wrong to use that money as a criteria to lend to somebody who is by definition, extremely vulnerable.”

Loansathome4U refused to co-operate with the CAB. But after a formal complaint they finally agreed to allow Shelagh to pay back £3 a month.

Shelagh told us how it’s left her feeling: “I wouldn't get into that situation again, no way. I dread to think that it's happening to other people as well, that are in the same situation that I'm in.”

The Office of Fair Trading says companies should do a thorough credit check before giving out a loan as well as seeing documentary evidence of income and expenditure, and people shouldn’t be encouraged to take out loans on top of others.

Its guidelines also state that if a borrower falls behind, the lender shouldn't make undue, excessive or otherwise inappropriate demands when a borrower falls behind. And lenders are expected to treat vulnerable borrowers like Shelagh fairly and appropriately.

X-Ray contacted Loansathome4U who have responded saying they don't "inappropriately encourage" customers to increase or rollover debt to unaffordable levels.

They have told us they comply with the OFT's guidelines and don't target customers on Disability Living Allowance. And they've told us they check potential customers’ income and outgoings and only offer loans to those who can comfortably afford to repay.

They also say they deal direct with Citizen’s Advice and have regular conversations with them.

However they do admit there was a breakdown in the relationship between Shelagh and her debt collector and the language used was unacceptable. Their employee has now been reprimanded and has apologised to Shelagh.

If you get into problems paying back debts you should contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, or you can write to them here.



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