Acorn Community Bank has seen a huge rise in the number of members turning to loans to pay for new school uniform because of the cost of living crisis.
Acorn, which is owned by its members and run on their behalf, provides affordable loans for people unable to get credit elsewhere to prevent them from going to payday loan companies or loan sharks. Members open savings accounts and, provided they meet the loan criteria, can take out loans which are repaid monthly.
In July last year it awarded 188 family loans but this July the bank issued 384 family loans and loan top-ups, mainly for school uniforms, totalling £129,000.
Chief Executive Clive Henly said: “Over the past year, we have seen the number of people using our Family Loans more than double, a lot of this increase is down to people recommending us to their families and friends.
“Many of the people coming to us for a loan have young families, and a small loan can help them buy necessary things for their homes like fridges, washing machines and furnishings. As the summer holidays approached, we saw several of our members returning to us for a top-up to their loan to help them manage the cost of school uniforms for the new term."
The bank, which lends more than £1 million every year and has more than 8,000 members in Wiltshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, rebranded as Acorn in April after a merger between Wiltshire and Swindon Credit Union, Clivey Credit Union and Swan Community Bank. Since then its membership has risen steadily, with 80 new applications in July alone. Of these, 55 joined to borrow for the first time, while the others joined to save.
This month the bank has launched a new Acorn Saver account to encourage more people to save. Members have to save either £4 or £8 a month for three months to have the total savings matched, thanks to funding from Acorn partner, the England Illegal Money Lending Team.
Mr Henly said: “We are very grateful to the England Illegal Money Lending Team, which works closely with us to identify loan sharks and warn people of the dangers of associating with them, for its support.
“We hope this savings account encourages more people to put a little money away regularly because we always urge our members to save a little as they repay their loan, so as to build up a pot of savings for when they really need them.”
The bank is also working with 20 councils and organisations, including Haydon Wick and Prospect Hospice, to run Payroll Partnerships, which allows their staff to join the credit union and get preferential rates on loans and attractive savings incentives.
Mr Henly said: “We have a big list of payroll partners throughout Wiltshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and we are in the process of working with more organisations to set up similar partnerships. We’d be happy to talk to anyone about joining us.”
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