Social Democrats Political Director and Consumer Affairs Spokesperson Anne-Marie McNally has called on Government to urgently address the serious deficiencies in financial literacy education and to maximise free banking and micro-financing options particularly for those on lower incomes.

A reply to a parliamentary question received by the Social Democrats this week indicates that only 50% of Credit Unions nationally are participating in the micro-credit scheme. This scheme was established to address the lending needs of those on lower incomes or with minimal banking history as a way to access borrowing without being forced to rely on high-cost moneylenders or unscrupulous and illegal moneylenders who prey on the most vulnerable.

Ms McNally said:

“The personal micro-credit scheme was implemented in order that those borrowers who have difficulty accessing finance would have a legitimate avenue to access loans for those out of the ordinary expenses that crop up from time to time.  The original idea for the scheme was that local Credit Unions, as trusted institutions, would be best placed with a foot in both the financial sector and the community, to offer access to such a scheme. However the reply received from the Minister shows that at present less than half the credit unions nationwide are actually in a position to offer the loan scheme. This means that significant portions of the population are not able to access the scheme and as such are still subject to relying on high-cost and often shady money-lenders. The latest register of Moneylenders, updated just yesterday, showed some licenced moneylenders charging up to 288% APR.”

“There is a significant dearth of financial literacy education in our schools and many people are unaware of the financial implications of things like APR’s and interest rates on their bottom line. Most people in a desperate financial situation will take the line of credit that is most easily available to them often without realising the true cost of the credit or accepting that cost because it is their only option. There is an onus on Government to ensure that basic financial literacy is a key part of the education curriculum but also the provision of support schemes through community projects around the country to improve financial literacy. This must be done in conjunction with renewed efforts to make low-cost credit available nationwide by ensuring the micro-credit scheme is implemented in 100% of Credit Unions.”

4th May 2018

ENDS

Notes to Editors:
Relevant PQ herein:
Question No:  194                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Ref No:  19318/18

To the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection
To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number and percentage of credit unions that have signed up to the personal micro credit scheme; the number and proportion of these that are offering loans; the number and percentage of credit unions that have placed a limit on the number of loans available under the scheme; the number of loans provided under the scheme in each of the years since its inception; the average and aggregate value of the loans provided in each of the years; the way in which the scheme is promoted; the actions being taken by the implementation group to improve the availability and success of the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Catherine Murphy.

*    For WRITTEN answer on Wednesday, 2nd May, 2018.

R E P L Y
Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Regina Doherty T.D.): The Personal Micro Credit Scheme (PMC) provides for small scale loans, known as It Makes Senseloans, by Credit Unions to borrowers who have difficulty accessing low cost credit.  The aim of the scheme is to move people away from the use of high cost moneylenders as a mechanism to provide for their planned financial needs and to provide an alternative, legitimate, and low cost personal loan scheme.
The loans under the scheme range from €100 to a maximum of €2,000 and have a maximum interest rate of 12% per annum.

An Implementation Group chaired by my Department and comprising all relevant stakeholders is working towards achieving a national rollout of the scheme.

Currently, 109 credit unions at over 255 locations are in a position to offer the ‘It Makes Sense Loan’.  This represents almost 50%   of the credit unions (excluding industrial), which could potentially participate in the scheme.

Of the 109 credit unions which have signed up to participate, 101 (93%) have issued loans under the scheme with 8 (7%) yet to write a loan. 3 credit unions (2.75%) have some restriction in place in relation to the loans available.

The aggregate value of loans drawn down under the scheme in 2016, 2017 and 2018, to date   is not readily available.  However during the pilot period from November 2015 to April 2016, 1,202 loans were issued with an aggregate value of €720,000.

Since the inception of the scheme in November 2015, almost 7,500 loans have been drawn down.  Currently over 6,000 people are making PMC loan repayments by way of weekly deductions from their Social Welfare payment through the Household Budgeting Facility, with an unknown additional number using direct debit or standing orders.

Information on the scheme and regular updates, including the list of participating credit unions is available at www.itmakessenseloan.ie, a Facebook page www.facebook.com/itmakessenseloan and on www.citizensinformation.ie

The availability of  the scheme has been promoted at local level, in the areas where credit unions are participating in the scheme.  The credit union representative groups support local credit unions in marketing the scheme through the provision of posters, leaflets and raising awareness in local media.  A number of other promotional methods have been used such as posters/flyers delivered to all Intreo Offices in the areas served by participating credit unions.  Additionally, the scheme is promoted at local level by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and St Vincent de Paul.

Incremental progress is being made towards extending the geographical coverage of the loan scheme through efforts to recruit credit unions to participate in the scheme.  In efforts to increase credit union participation in the scheme, feature articles have been placed in credit union publications such as CU Focus.  Promotion also takes place at appropriate events such as the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) Annual General Meeting, the Credit Union Managers Association conference and events such as the National Ploughing Championships.

Engagement is continuing with the credit union representative bodies and individual credit unions to encourage wider participation; in this context.  I recently met with the Irish League of Credit Unions to discuss same.  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.