Families facing up to the spiralling cost of living are being targeted by predatory loan sharks who pose as friends and even using social media influencers to trap new victims.
It is estimated more than a million people are in debt to illegal money lenders, a number that has trebled in the past decade.
Investigators are concerned that the rising cost of living will push people who would not normally seek an underground loan to do just that.
Tony Quigley, head of England Illegal Money Lending Team, said: “One of the things we’re fearful of obviously is with the current situation around energy prices and inflation is that more people will be tempted to use this type of lender.”
Illegal lenders are increasingly operating on social media to entice and then exploit victims, sending threatening messages and shaming and manipulating them on group chats.
One convicted loan shark used an influencer to attract victims.
Loan sharks are also snaring victims by posing as friends who simply want to help out with cash loans before ramping up extortionate and arbitrary interest rates.
£50 loan that spiralled to thousands
One woman, a mother of three, was offered a £50 loan by a woman she met at the school gate.
The debt quickly spiralled and she ended up paying thousands in cash with no records kept.
“I was stressed over the repayments,” she said. “I knew I had to pay her back because I have seen what she had done to other people if they didn’t pay her back. She made it her business to know exactly what money went into my bank.
“I got to the point of wanting to end everything. I was very suicidal and didn’t know who to go to. There were threats on my life and on my home. I had windows put in and I would get messages off people bullying me because she had sent them to my door, she even used local youths in the area as a campaign of terror.”
‘Likely an illegal lender is someone you know’
The woman’s experience matches what was found in a study by the Centre for Social Justice, a think tank.
Matthew Greenwood, its head of debt, said: “I think the most startling thing that we uncovered was that over half of people who borrow from an illegal lender said that they perceived this person to be their friend when they first borrowed.
“There’s a sort of perception that every illegal lender is someone in a hoodie in a dark alley and while those people certainly do exist, it’s far more likely that an illegal lender is someone you know, rather than someone you’ve met for the first time.”
The study found that most victims have an income below £20,000, two-thirds already owe money to legal creditors, three-quarters are on benefits and two-thirds have a long-term health condition.
‘Pay me, don’t feed your children’
Experts say the crime is so widespread and hidden that victims are too scared or ashamed to report their experiences. The large sums of money and extortionate rates of interest take a psychological toll, leaving victims feeling trapped and helpless.
“We’ve seen some horrendous things that people have been subjected to,” Mr Quigley said. “We’ve had instances in the past where the loan shark has said to individuals: ‘Pay me, don’t feed your children.’
“We’ve also seen illegal lenders who have said they’ll send men round and they can pay the debt off through sexual favours so it is just hideous.”
The England Illegal Money Lending team, which was set up in 2004 and runs the Stop Loan Sharks helpline, is a specialist team of law enforcement officers combatting illegal lending and associated crime.
It has prosecuted more than 400 cases and written off £90m in illegal debt.
Rishi Sunak to pitch himself as prime minister to ‘fundamentally change the country’
Rishi Sunak will try to convince the public he is the person to “fundamentally change the country” and fix Westminster’s “broken system” – despite the fact his party has been in government for 13 years.
In his speech to the Tory Party conference, the prime minister will present himself as a reformer who is prepared to take difficult decisions, unlike opponents, who take “the easy decision, not the right one”.
Mr Sunak will tell the conference hall that politics “doesn’t work the way it should” and that his Labour opponent, Sir Keir Starmer, is “betting on voters’ apathy.”
The speech will round off what has been a chaotic four days at the party’s annual conference in Manchester – an event that has been overshadowed by the announcement that the northern leg of HS2 will not go ahead as originally envisioned.
Instead, services will run between Birmingham and Manchester but they will not be high speed and they will use the existing West Coast Mainline track.
The development prompted Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to accuse the government of treating people in the north as “second-class citizens”.
He warned the government: “To pull that plug here in Manchester would show complete contempt to the city region and to the north of England as a whole.”
The Tory mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, also warned it would be “an incredible political gaffe” allowing opponents to accuse Mr Sunak of having decided to “shaft the north”.
In his speech, Mr Sunak will rail against “30 years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one – 30 years of vested interests standing in the way of change”.
He will reflect on his first year in Number 10 and acknowledge a “feeling that Westminster is a broken system”.
“It isn’t anger, it is an exhaustion with politics,” he will say.
“In particular, politicians saying things, and then nothing ever changing.
“And you know what? People are right. Politics doesn’t work the way it should.”
Poll shows most voters think Sunak is doing a bad job
A new poll of 1,000 people from Ipsos UK suggests most voters think Rishi Sunak is doing a bad job when it comes to hitting his goals.
On inflation, 57% said Mr Sunak was doing a bad job, up from 55% in May.
Some 54% said he was doing a bad job on growing the economy, up from 50% in May.
And 54% of people said he was doing a bad job on reducing national debt – up from 49%.
On cutting NHS waiting lists, dissatisfaction sits at 71%, compared to 62% in May.
On ‘stopping the boats’, two-thirds of people said he was doing a bad job.
The poll was carried out just before the Conservative party conference.
And he will say: “Politicians spent more time campaigning for change than actually delivering it.
“Our mission is to fundamentally change our country.”
As well as the HS2 announcement, Mr Sunak has also been undermined by his predecessor Liz Truss, who drew big conference crowds as she demanded immediate tax cuts to “make Britain grow again”.
Mr Sunak has instead compared himself to the late Baroness Thatcher, who tackled inflation before cutting taxes during her premiership between 1979 and 1990.
While Mr Sunak has repeatedly sought to dodge questions over HS2, he did say on Tuesday that the costs of the project had gone “far beyond” what had been predicted, and the sums involved were “enormous”.
The HS2 scheme was given a budget of £55.7bn in 2015 but costs have ballooned, with an estimate of up to £98bn – in 2019 prices – in 2020.
HS2 won’t be high speed between Manchester and Birmingham
HS2 will start at Euston rather than Old Oak Common – but between Birmingham and Manchester it will not be high speed, Sky News understands.
The rail line will stop in Manchester, but from Birmingham it will switch to use existing West Coast Mainline track.
It will therefore not be high speed after Birmingham – effectively confirming days of speculation that the northern leg of the controversial project has been shelved.
Alongside the doubt over Manchester, there have also been question marks over Euston station and whether the line would terminate there as originally planned.
There had been rumours that it could stop at Old Oak Common instead, but Sky News understands the rail line will stop at Euston in a move that could be designed to placate critics.
The development, broken on the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge programme, follows repeated attempts by Rishi Sunak and other members of the Cabinet to bat away questions regarding the future of the northern leg of the project.
The government initially tried to downplay the original reports, saying they were “incorrect” and that no “final decisions” had been made regarding the northern leg, known as phase two.
But despite their attempts, questions over HS2 have dominated Mr Sunak’s first party conference as leader and prime minister.
Speaking at event near the conference venue, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham immediately hit out at the plans, saying: “If media reports are to be believed tonight, HS2 will leave central London, it will go to the Home Counties and the Chilterns underground, and it will get to Birmingham and then it will go onto traditional tracks.”
He said 40 businesses had written to prime minister tonight to urge him not to pull the plug.
“If you think about that for a moment, you know that will be a permanent statement for people in the north of England that they are second class citizens when it comes to transport infrastructure,” he added.
“It beggars belief in some ways that they are going to do this, they are going to pull the plug on that infrastructure that would pave the way for that new east-west line across the north, promised in not one, not two, but three Conservative manifestos.
“But to pull that plug here in Manchester would show complete contempt to the city region and to the north of England as a whole.”
Mr Burnham told the audience: “We say to them tonight: it isn’t too late from our point of view, you could invite us in.
“Do not pull the plug on this city while you are in this city.
“If you do do those things, people here will never forget.”
The first indications that the leg to Manchester could be scrapped came after it was reported last month ministers were considering shelving the northern phase because of concerns about spiralling costs and severe delays.
According to The Independent, a cost estimate revealed that the government has already spent £2.3bn on stage two of the railway from Birmingham to Manchester, but that ditching the northern phase could save up to £34bn.
The reports immediately drew criticism from across the political divide, including from former Conservative prime ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May.
Speaking on the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, Science and Technology Secretary Michell Donelan said the latest reports were “still speculation”.
“I know, having worked around the cabinet table with the prime minister, that he is somebody who is very thorough when it comes to the detail,” she said.
“So I’m going to give him the time and wait and see what he says tomorrow.”
Asked why the government was not confirming what is happening on HS2, Ms Donelan said ministers wanted to “get it right” on the project.
“If I was the prime minister, I’d be doing exactly what he’s doing,” she said.
VAR audio of Liverpool’s wrongly disallowed goal in Spurs defeat released
The full transcript from the VAR audio
VAR: Possible offside, Diaz.
Assistant referee 2: Give it.
Assistant referee 1: Coming back for the offside, mate.
VAR: Just checking the offside. Delay, delay. Give the kick point, let’s go. Kick point please?
Referee: Yeah, no worries mate.
Replay operator: So, here we are. Just get a tight angle.
VAR: Yeah, give me 2D line ready after this one for frame two after that.
Replay operator: So frame two there?
VAR: That’s fine. Perfect, yeah. 2D line on the left boot.
Replay operator: Let me just switch angles.
VAR: Romero, I think it is?
Replay operator: I think it might be this angle better? Happy with this angle?
Replay operator: 2D line on the boot?
VAR: 2D line on the boot.
Replay operator: Yeah, okay. So 2D line on the boot.
VAR: And stop. Check complete, check complete. That’s fine, perfect.
Assistant referee 1: Playing.
Referee: Cheers mate.
VAR: Thank you mate.
Referee: Well done boys, good process.
Replay operator: Wait, wait, wait, wait. The on-field decision was offside. Are you happy with this?
Assistant VAR: Yeah.
Replay operator: Are you happy with this?
Assistant VAR: Offside, goal, yeah. That’s wrong that, Daz.
Replay operator: On-field decision was offside. Are you happy with this image? Yeah, it’s onside. The image that we gave them is onside.
Assistant VAR: He’s played him, he’s gone offside.
VAR: Oh *expletive*
Replay operator: Delay, delay. Oli’s (PGMOL Hub Ops) saying to delay, Oli’s saying to delay.
Replay operator: Oli’s calling in to say delay the game. The decision is onside.
VAR: Can’t do anything.
Replay operator: Oli’s saying to delay, Oli’s saying to delay.
Fourth official: Yeah?
Replay operator: Delay the game, to delay the game? Stop the game.
VAR: They’ve restarted the game. Can’t do anything, can’t do anything.
Assistant VAR: Yeah, they’ve restarted. Yeah.
VAR: I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything. *expletive*
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