CONCERN: Chris Gliddon and partner Sophie Rice, with Kalisha, two, left, and Lexi, one
DOORSTEP lenders are loaning hundreds of pounds to cash-strapped Exeter households where the only income is from benefit payments.
The practice – and the high annual percentage rates charged by some lenders – have been condemned by debt councillors who claim some of the city's poorest districts are being targeted.
Chris Gliddon and his partner Sophie Rice are struggling to clothe their children, one-year-old Lexi and Kalisha, two.
They took out a loan with Provident Personal Credit Ltd to pay for carpeting when they moved into a new property in Thursby Walk, Pinhoe.
Mr Gliddon, 25, has been out of work for two years but the couple still managed to borrow nearly £700, repaying about £1,500 over 12 months.
The couple said the 254.5 per cent annual percentage rate (APR) of the loans was made clear to them but they had little choice.
"We have two loans and have to pay £10.50 a week on one and £18.50 a week on another," said Mr Gliddon.
"At the time of taking the loans we needed the money and had no other choice."
The couple were recently turned down for an emergency loan for children's clothing by the Department for Work and Pensions and said their Christmas is looking grim.
"I have been desperately trying to get work but there is so little about. I am prepared to do virtually anything," Mr Gliddon said.
"Our children do not have warm winter clothes and we are having to keep them indoors because of that."
Liz Camp runs the Christians Against Poverty debt advice centre in Southernhay, which she said has been overrun with inquiries in the run-up to Christmas.
"My advice is not to accept credit from a doorstep lender because the rates are among the highest around," she said.
"The seem to target council estates. These people will seem very nice, they have a winning way, and the companies' websites look very attractive, but time and time again we see people getting sucked into a spiral of debt once they take out a loan on the doorstep.
"We would urge anyone to think very carefully before taking out any loan."
She said the charity, which visits people in their homes to work out debt-tackling action plans, was now taking bookings in a month's time.
"It is so frustrating that before Christmas we are seeing so many problems with debt," she added.
Moira Haynes, of the Citizen's Advice Bureau, said debt advice could save families money.
"There is a lot of very good and free advice available to people," she said. "People should know their options before taking out a high interest loan which could mean they get in a vicious spiral."
But debt companies operating in the area said they are providing a service to people who cannot get credit any other way, and their staff carefully assess each household on its merits to ensure repayments can be met.
Provident spokesman David Stevenson said APR rates could seem high because of the way in which loans are calculated, but the company took into consideration income other lenders would not.
"Provident has been serving its customers for 130 years with the small loans of a few hundred pounds they want," he said.
"The customer pays an up-front single charge which is added to the principle sum they have borrowed.
"There are no extra charges or interest whatsoever even if the customer misses repayments and so takes much longer to repay.
"The service includes weekly collection of payments from the customer's home at a time to suit the customer."
The Christians Against Poverty action line can be contacted on 0800 3280006 or the Exeter CAB on 0844 4994101.