07.12.22 -Sleigh No to Loan Sharks, Homes for Ukraine Scheme, The Harmony ASB & Mediation Service, Holiday Activity & Food programme
Written by Hitmix Local News on 6 December 2022
People in Staffordshire are being warned that unscrupulous lenders could try to cash in on the festive period as households continue to deal with rising bills.
Staffordshire County Council’s Trading Standards service is working with the Illegal Money Lending team (IMLT) to combat the growth in illegal lending. A new social media campaign, #SleighNoToLoanSharks, is being launched to alert people about the dangers of using loan sharks in the run up to Christmas.
Loan sharks target vulnerable people seeking credit and trapping them into a cycle of debt with exorbitant interest rates and threats of violence.
Figures released by the IMLT show that nearly one in ten of those who borrowed money from loan sharks last year did so to cover the costs of Christmas. More than half of victims (52%) supported by the IMLT in the first half of 2022 had borrowed from a loan shark to pay for essentials such as food and fuel.
Victoria Wilson, Cabinet Member responsible for Trading Standards at Staffordshire County Council said: “With many families facing extra financial pressures and the rising cost of living, it’s even more important that we continue to take a stand against loan sharks.
Staffordshire County Council’s ‘Here to help’ campaign and dedicated webpages also have information and advice with things like paying bills, food and essentials, funding for childcare, staying warm and helping others.
The following safety tips can help protect people from loan sharks:
- If Struggling for money, remember, lone sharks are not your friends. Think very carefully before taking out a loan and consider other options.
- Make sure to protect your information from criminals. Never send money, credit card details, online account information and personal documents to anyone you don’t know.
- Always check your lender is genuine. Do your research first and check the firm or person you’re dealing with is listed on the Financial Services Register.
- When exploitative loan sharks are preying on hardship, it’s vital for people to know there are ethical, local, not-for-profit alternatives available. Other community lenders like credit unions who are mostly not for profit can be found on https://www.findingfinance.org.uk/.
Anyone worried about a friend or family member who is being taken advantage of by a loan shark should contact Stop Loan Sharks 24/7 confidential helpline on 0300 5552222 or visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk.
More than 800 Ukrainians have made Staffordshire their temporary home as part of the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.
The scheme has seen more than 400 Staffordshire residents give accommodation to families from the war-torn country.
A total of 633 Ukrainians are still being accommodated by sponsors in the county following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, while 172 have moved on out of the sponsorship scheme.
Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet meeting will review work done on the scheme by the county council and its partners, including district and borough councils, health, education and the voluntary sector.
Members will also consider a proposal to set up a dedicated resettlement team within the council that will work on the Homes for Ukraine programme, as well as broader resettlement.
The county council’s cabinet will meet to discuss proposals on December 14.
A free service providing practical and emotional support to victims of anti-social behaviour across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent has supported almost 400 people, trained nearly 150 professionals and delivered community awareness sessions to almost 2,500 people in its first year.
The Harmony ASB and Mediation Service, commissioned by the Staffordshire Commissioner’s Office and delivered by Victim Support, was established last October. The region was one of the first Police & Crime Commissioner areas nationally to invest in such a service.
Staffordshire Commissioner for Police, Fire & Rescue and Crime, Ben Adams said: “The impact of anti-social behaviour can be devastating for victims and communities, so this service – one of the first nationally – is vital in providing effective emotional and practical support when people need it. “Each person’s experience when faced with ASB is different, which is why I was keen to commission a service that offered a range of different channels and options for victims to get support that is tailored to their individual needs.
Harmony helps victims recover from the impact of ASB, whether they choose to report incidents to the Police or not. It forms part of an integrated system of effective guidance and support for victims, from when they report the incident or recognise that they need support, through to exiting the service.
Since 1 October 2021, Harmony has:
- Received 457 referrals for support or mediation
- Provided support to 397 victims
- Provided advice, guidance, information and signposting to 46 victims
- Offered mediation services to 73 victims
- Delivered ASB awareness training to 147 professionals
- Delivered 33 community awareness sessions to 2,466 people
The tailored, confidential service is designed to be accessible through a range of channels, simple to navigate and prevent victims having to repeat their story on multiple occasions. It includes:
- Emotional support: acknowledging the personal impact of ASB and the ripple effect on family, friends and the wider community, and helping victims rebuild their confidence and independence
- Practical support: navigating the options, legal tools and powers available, arranging adaptations to property and personal security where available via partners, supporting victims with taking photos of any damage and gathering evidence
- Online support: offering self-guided work, including dealing with managing anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation, through the digital My Support Space platform
- Information: sharing information about ASB options and managing expectations about what the Criminal Justice System, Local Authority, Housing and other public services can provide
- Advocacy: liaising with Staffordshire Police and councils, obtaining case updates, providing evidence to support Community Protection Notices, injunctions and harassment orders, and providing letters to support house moves
- Mediation: offering confidential, impartial mediation services between parties, who may be neighbours, near neighbours or community members
The Harmony ASB & Mediation Service will receive £200,000 per year for three years, with an opportunity for a further two-year extension after the initial three years.
Community Safety Partnerships across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are also contributing to the service through the Local Delivery Fund.
Victim Support Area Manager Melina Hancox said: “Victim Support is really pleased with the first-year performance of our anti-social behaviour support service, Harmony. The service delivers a consistent pan-Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent support service and we have made a great start promoting Harmony with key partner services, raising our profile with the community and providing education and awareness of the impact of ASB.
“We have been able to deliver mediation, where suitable, as a direct intervention and in other cases have supported with evidence capture, housing-related matters, supporting the Community Trigger process, and many other forms of practical and emotional support.”
If you’ve been affected by ASB in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, call Harmony on 0330 1757 258 (lines are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday). If you need support outside these hours, call the Supportline free on 08 08 16 89 111 or request support via the website, www.victimsupport.org.uk. In an emergency, always call 999.
Alternatively, create a free account on My Support Space – an online resource containing interactive guides to help manage the impact of ASB: www.mysupportspace.org.uk
Thousands of Staffordshire families are set to benefit from extra support during the Christmas school holidays.
Staffordshire County Council’s Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme is available to eligible children aged between five and sixteen on benefits related free school meals.
The programme includes physical play, fun activities, nutritional advice and a healthy hot meal where possible. Funding is provided by the Department for Education.
Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People, said: “With food prices and the cost of living rising, this programme will be crucial for many families over the Christmas holidays. The programme will give children access to a wide variety of activities and a hot meal, helping keep them well-fed and active over the school break. Since the scheme launched in summer 2021, more than 117,000 free places have been made available with a further 12,700 places being made available this Christmas.