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Loan shark victims have 'doubled'

The number of Scots suffering at the hands of loan sharks has risen over the last four years, new figures suggest.

PAMELA NASH: Said true number of cases was likely to be much higher.
PAMELA NASH: Said true number of cases was likely to be much higher.

Twice as many reports of ­Scottish victims of illegal lenders were acted on last year compared to when the Conservative-LibDem Coalition came to power in 2010.

Asked about the issue ­yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron said his party was ­"absolutely determined to make sure that everyone who wants to work hard and do the right thing can benefit from the economic recovery now under way."

But Pamela Nash, the Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts who obtained the figures, said they were "truly shocking".

The statistics, contained in a parliamentary written answer, show that the number of ­actionable reports to the Scotland Illegal Money Lending Team, the unit responsible for handling complaints, has gone up in recent years.

In 2010-11 the figure stood at 28, but in 2012-13, the most recent year for which records are available, it was 65.

The Scottish Government ­estimates that 85,000 people a year borrow from more than 150 separate illegal money lenders operating across Scotland.

They are thought to charge interest rates equivalent to more than 10 million per cent APR.

Across the UK, it is estimated 300,000 people borrow £120 million a year from loan sharks, and spend £450m a year repaying that debt.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced new funding for the fight against loan sharks and scams last December. Andrea Leadsom, the Treasury minister whose department provided the figures, said Illegal Money Lending Teams had "a strong track record of taking enforcement action against illegal money lenders."

Ms Nash said: "Given that there are an estimated 85,000 people in Scotland using loan sharks, the fact that only 65 cases were taken up last year, which is the equivalent to 0.7 per cent, is shocking. One of the things that gravely concerns me is that these figures only show the number of cases which were deemed actionable, and it is a very hard crime to gather evidence on, so the true number of reports could be much higher."

She also called on the Coalition Government to order the Scotland Illegal Money Lending Team to record all reports from the public.

The figures emerged as a consumer watchdog warned that a typical payday loan customer is paying up to £60 a year more than necessary because of a lack of competition in the industry.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants a new independent price comparison website for the companies, whose customer base has grown considerably in recent years.

The proposals were welcomed by consumers campaigners and a trade body for payday lenders. But there were also calls for high street banks to offer more short-term credit options.

The CMA calculates that lack of competition adds up to an extra £10 to the average cost of a typical £260 payday loan. Customers tend to take out about six loans a year.

The CMA also wants lenders to have to clearly tell customers up front what the total cost of their loan will be if they fail to pay it back on time.

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