Union backing for at-risk task force

UNION chiefs are backing efforts to try to save a specialist service that tackles loan sharks.

Public sector trade union Unison has given its full support to a campaign to save the North East Illegal Money Lending Team (ILMT), as well as recent approaches made by North East MPs to the Government in a bid to overturn the decision to abolish the vital debt-busting unit.

The ILMT will close in April and its work will be handled by a national office in Birmingham after an announcement by the

Government.

Ruth Berkley, regional women's officer for Unison, said: "The loss of the IMLT to the region could potentially lead to resurgence in criminal targeting of the poor, needy and vulnerable in a region that is a well known hotspot for loan sharks.

"The phenomenal interest rates that these loan sharks charge mean that debts can never be paid off, forcing vulnerable families further into debt and desperation."

Ms Berkley said the money-lending team has identified 170 potential loan sharks, arrested 62 suspects and been involved in bringing legal proceedings against 36 people.

Loan books totalling 1.8m and cash of around 170,000 have been seized from loan sharks' homes.

"The consequences of the loss of this service are frightening," she added.

Ian Harrison, of Hartlepool Borough Council's trading standards department, which worked closely with the money-lending team, appeared in the Mail last week expressing his disappointment at the decision to axe the service.