Raid on suspected loan shark

TRADING standards officers and police raided the premises of a suspected loan shark today in a bid to help tackle Suffolk's spiralling personal debt.The raid took place in north east Ipswich, just 24 hours after an innovative debt summit was held in the county.

TRADING standards officers and police raided the premises of a suspected loan shark today in a bid to help tackle Suffolk's spiralling personal debt.

The raid took place in north east Ipswich, just 24 hours after an innovative debt summit was held in the county.

The summit heard that levels of personal debt in the county are becoming so bad that the systems designed to help those in financial turmoil are buckling under the strain.

In some cases people's lives are being so overwhelmed by their mounting debts that they are sliding into despair and depression and a massive strain is being placed on the National Health Service as a result.

Suffolk County Council's public protection committee launched the Credit and Debt Working Party yesterday in a bid to ease the pressure that rising debt is having on the county's residents.

But after a day of evidence from debt specialists and officers responsible for monitoring the practices of the money lending industry, the committee's chair said it was clear easing the burden would not be an easy task.

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Today Cllr John Field said: “The real challenge is going to be finding some things that are practical and can make a difference.

“But it would be wrong to be put off just because it's difficult.”

Across the UK personal debt is now thought to total more than £1trillion (£1,000,000,000,000) - around £20,000 for each person.

Among the evidence presented to the panel during yesterday's session were reports that illegal money lending is commonplace in the county and even some legal lenders are demanding interest rates of above 400per cent.

Reg Ruffles, Suffolk County Council's principal Trading Standards officer, said there was a need for the council to track down the illegal traders and to find ways of helping people to break free from the cycle of debt.

He said: “There needs to be support for people left without any legal sources of credit. We need to be able to put these alternative sources in place so they don't have to go to high interest rate lenders.

“We need to stop the activities of illegal money lending, including pursuing prosecutions. We need to think of alternative ways such as Anti Social Behaviour Orders and imposing bail conditions to stop this sort of thing happening.”

Mike Blake, chair of trustees at Ipswich Citizens' Advice Bureau, said debt was now the second most common problem dealt with by the agency in Suffolk. He said “several thousand people” sought help for serious debt problems last year alone.

The second day of the debt summit will be held early next month, with the committee's findings expected to be presented to the council's cabinet in January.

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