Rats and sharks

It’s pelting down and everyone who comes into the front office this morning looks like a drowned rat.


Today is money day again at the UCAN. The place is only open for those who want to see the local credit union, Hoot, or have an appointment with Dawn from Money Skills. Oh, and Jade is upstairs waiting to see her ‘Think Positive’ clients.

Hoot’s first customer is early. Nick has come to make his regular loan re-payment and, as Steve from Hoot has yet to set up his stall in the corner of the front office, I grab my opportunity. “Can I have a chat… about why you use the credit union?”

“You can ask me what you like,” says Nick, happy to help. “I could tell you my life story if you’ve got time.”

I suggest there might not be enough tape in my recorder and instead ask him how long he’s been with Hoot. “Three years. And I’ve had a new loan off them each year. Every fortnight I pay off some of the loan and put something into a savings account. They use people’s savings to give out other loans.”

Nick explains that he uses Hoot as a way of budgeting across the year. The loan he takes out each October pays for Christmas and it takes him 12 months to pay it back, then he takes out another.

“What is your income, are you on benefits?”

“I get child benefits, family tax credits and employment support allowance, and that’s because I’m under the Mental Health Act, I’ve been under them for 20 odd years.”

“They’ll only give you what they think you can afford to pay back. Before they start they work out what money you’ve got coming in and what your bills are and that.

“If this wasn’t around where could you go?”

“The only other thing is a budgeting loan from the Department of Health and Social Security, [now the DWP].”

“And what about loan sharks? Have you had any experience of loan sharks?”

“I’ve used three or four of them in the past. But, If you borrow £100 they’ll be asking for £250 back,” he says. “They always want more from you. That’s what they do on this estate, they prey on people on ‘social’. They’ll go to the door and say you can have a £200 cash loan and there won’t be many – especially at this time of year – who won’t take it.”

“What if you don’t pay it back?”

“The official ones – the likes of Shopacheck and that – they’ll just send someone round from head office but there are others that’ll send the heavies round… give you a few slaps. You know what I mean?”

Steve is ready now.


Nick has his card, and his payments, and all the receipt slips from his fortnightly visits in a plastic folder. “I always keep it organised,” he says. “So here’s £30, that’s £28 off the loan and £2 going into the savings, right?”

“Okay,” says Steve, filling out another receipt form.

“And here’s what they do,” says Nick, “showing me a kind of income and expenditure analysis that he’s had to complete before getting his loan. “They won’t give you the money unless they know you can pay it back.”

“Is he your best customer, Steve?” I joke.

“He’s a good customer.”

“And I get a pen every time I come in!” laughs Nick, picking up one of the Hoot pens off the desk.

“He pinches one every time he comes in!” laughs Steve with him.