Up to 130,000 households who turned to SVP for help last year were paying back loans to moneylenders with interest rates of up to 168%.
In one rural area of Ireland, there were 23 agents operating for one moneylender.
Kieran Stafford, the national president of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), made the revelation while presenting the charity’s pre-budget submission to the Government.
The SVP responded to the needs of 130,000 Irish households in 2016.
“I know that from our experience, virtually almost every household that we are going into has some link with a moneylender,” said Mr Stafford.
“Our experience is in seeing people having to resort to money lenders just to cover the most basic of needs in the home, at extortionate rates.
“With illegal money lenders, you’re looking at percentage interest rates of around 168%.”
He said the society has also seen a rise in the number of people using the lenders. He said some were legal and others illegal.
“The figures would be there in terms of the legal money lenders,” he said.
“I would have learned recently of a relatively rural area where 23 agents were operating for one particular legal money lender. I mean that’s quite shocking really. That would be North Tipperary.”
In some incidences, families have gone without food in order to pay money lenders. It is also common that the moneylenders are people who live in the community within which they are operating.
“They entice vulnerable people who are already on very low incomes to avail of quick and easy loans, but it’s not very quick and it’s not very easy to pay them back,” said Mr Stafford.
“It’s very difficult to get away from the grip that they have on some people.”
In terms of how they operate and target people, moneylenders will “hang around” certain locations targeting “vulnerable people”.
“You have situations where both legal and illegal moneylenders will offer additional loans if someone has an occasion,” he said. “They’re switched into every single thing that’s happening and they market themselves very, very effectively.
“And we see the misery that is caused by the amount of money that has to be paid back.”
Mr Stafford said that the society tries to direct people to the new ‘It Makes Sense’ Credit Union loans, which are available to people in receipt of social welfare.
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