There was a steady stream of people queuing to use the services at Morecambe Bay Credit Union when it opened for a couple of hours on Friday morning.
Cashier Joanne Burns and volunteer Islay Watson manned the front desk, sorting out loans, deposits and applications, with many customers hoping to borrow a bit of extra cash for Christmas.
Joanne, who has worked part-time at the charity’s Queen Street office for two years, said Christmas was usually “manic”, as people arrived to either borrow or withdraw the money they’d been saving all year.
Regulated and authorised by The Financial Services Authority, Morecambe Bay Credit Union provides an alternative way to save and borrow.
It is essentially a savings and loans co-operative, owned and run by its members and it works by members saving together regularly, creating a pool of money from which low cost loans can be made.
Islay, from Morecambe, who is a shareholder in the union, and has herself borrowed money, said: “We’re basically a bank for people that can’t get loans from anywhere else.
“When I was brought up my mum started a bond and insurance, but culturally, we’re so much further on, and people have so little money, that it’s just not something they can do anymore.
“It’s not down to the government to help us look after our children, but nothing these days is secure, your job is not secure, my parents had a job for their whole lives - but it’s not like that anymore.”
Joanne says the most common loan requests are for washing machines, furniture, home decorating, holidays, and of course, Christmas.
She warns about the huge cost of borrowing from pay day loans companies, where the amount paid back is sometimes several times more than the value of the item.
She said: “If you go to a pay day loans company and the like a £1,000 sofa could end up costing you an extra £2,000 in interest charges.
“The advantages here at Morecambe Bay Credit Union are that people can get a much cheaper loan, as long as they are a member and are able to repay the money.
“For example, for a £1,000 loan over 24 months, the interest charged would be £268.34, with a monthly repayment of £52.85.
“How it works is once someone has saved up enough money they can start to apply for loans.
“People who may not have a credit history or can’t get a bank account can have different benefits paid into us, and then they can draw the money out.
“We don’t keep cash on site and we mainly deal with bank transfers and cheques.
“If somone is in a fix we can usually help them.”
The credit union can provide loans for school uniforms, low cost family funeral plans, and it offers free life insurance and loan protection at no extra cost.
It currently has around 2,000 members and can see up to 20 people a day during busy periods.
Islay said: “The main thing for us is that the decision making is quick, people will know within three days whether they’ve been successful, or they’ll make the decision there and then unless it’s over £2,000 and then it has to go to directors.
“If people get into difficult circumstances, there are now loans to compete with companies like Brighthouse.
“If you’re dealing with people on low incomes or benefits, they can’t easily find £200 or £400 for a new washer or TV, and a lot of people use us to save up for Christmas.
“Because we’re independent we can make those decisions to help people.
“A lot of people we deal with don’t have anywhere to live, or don’t have a credit history, so it’s incredibly difficult for them to get help, but we can generally always do something.
“Universal Credit has been a real problem recently.
“Some people have never had to manage their money before, and now they’re getting paid every month, instead of every week or fortnight, and they’re finding it very difficult to budget.”
Joanne added that people would have to learn to manage their money, but that budgeting for the future should definitely be taught to children in schools.
The credit union recenty introduced the Handy Loan to rival pay day lenders, expensive catalogues and shop credit.
Borrowing £300 for a TV for example, with a monthly payment of £29.25, would cost a total of £350.95 over 12 months.
Joanne said the offices would be getting a facelift in 2017, and encouraged anyone who wanted to help out to register to volunteer.
The office is open between 11am and 1pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, or call into the Ridge Community Centre in Lancaster on Tuesdays between 1pm and 3pm. For more information visit www.mbcu.co.uk.