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With 40 years? experience as a Royal Marine and a police officer Paul Davies felt equipped to cope with most things life threw at him. But fighting cancer and being forced to leave his home and move into bed and breakfast accommodation proved to be his toughest battle. Paul, 58, was one of YourCU's first borrowers when it opened for business and he credits the union with helping support him through one of the darkest periods of his life. The former Falklands and Northern Ireland veteran is now back on his feet, living in a new flat and his cancer in remission, but says seven months as a homeless person has changed his whole world view.
Because of his illness Paul was unable to work and a cap on Housing Benefit meant he could no longer afford to pay his rent. Everything can change in a second. One minute I was in a home of my own enjoying everything London had to offer and the next I was living in a B&B and didn't even have a place to make myself a meal. Paul borrowed a total of 3,500 from YourCU to help pay off his debts, buy furniture for his new home and pay for transport to visit his family who all live outside the capital. I found myself in a Catch 22 situation. I'd sold everything I had to keep myself going and had nothing left. You can't take out a regular loan if you don't have a job, so the only option you have left is borrowing from a pay day lender and I was determined not to go down that road.
It was after Paul saw an ad for YourCU in Kensington & Chelsea TMO magazine his fortunes changed. I gave them a call and arranged to meet face to face and talk everything through. It's the best thing I could have done. YourCU agreed to provide Paul with a loan and worked out a payment schedule he could manage. Recently Paul was able to leave his B&B after his oncologist intervened on his behalf and he was allocated a council-run property in Bayswater. YourCU made a huge difference to my life at a time when I was at my lowest ebb and I can't thank them enough.
As a young girl growing up in rural Ireland Sister Maria, a nun with the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and who now in north Kensington, saw first- hand the power of credit unions. She says: For some people they were, and still are, a lifeline in hard times, for others, a safe place to put their savings and support their local community. A credit union is much more personal than a bank. You get to talk to a real person who listens to you, who looks at your life and how best they can help you.
She recently became a saver with YourCU, helping the union to provide affordable loans for local residents. In common with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sister Maria believes credit unions are essential in the fight to compete pay day lenders out of existence. Sister Maria, who lived in Brent for 15 years before moving to the Royal Borough three years ago, says there is a lot of hidden poverty in the area.
As someone who has spent her life working in the community she has witnessed the tough choices faced by people struggling to make ends meet. From a young man too poor to travel to Ireland to attend his mother's funeral, to elderly people forced to stay in bed because they cannot afford heating.
Access to local, ethical and affordable financial services is vital for the well-being of the people who live here. I would encourage anyone who has some money to put by for a rainy day to open up a credit union account and help support their local community.
Paul Lautman's Story
As someone with years of experience in the public sector Paul Lautman appreciates the challenges faced by many Londoners struggling to live on a tight budget.
Paul, Assistant Director of Housing Management for social landlord Octavia Housing, says people living on low wages or in receipt of benefits, are often easy targets for pay day loan companies or doorstep lenders. Paul, along with 36 colleagues at the Association, have signed up to YourCU's savings scheme to help increase access to local, ethical and affordable financial services.
Many of our residents at Octavia are paying through the nose for financial products due to higher costs of borrowing and lack of access to cheaper deals. By saving with YourCU I can help support those people who live and work in the area and find themselves marginalised from affordable banking services and struggling with household finances. At the same time I am able to benefit from rates on savings comparable to those on the high street. YourCU members can save up to ?50 a month through pay roll deduction, which is then paid directly into the union's Savings Account.
Paul says levels of debt are increasing among the organisations tenants around 50 per cent of whom are on Housing Benefit often due to utility bill arrears, and owing money on credit cards. He also fears that the introduction of Universal Credit in 2017 where Housing Benefit and many other benefits will be paid as a lump sum will create some turbulence. It will mean people are responsible for paying their own rent, rather than having it paid directly to their landlord which will require huge cultural and behavioural changes. People who can't get to grips with it could find themselves in debt and in arrears.
Octavia actively promotes the use of credit unions as an alternative to expensive credit or pay day borrowing.
Don't talk to Charles Easterman about credit reference agencies, or you're likely to see smoke coming out of his ears. Charles, along with many of the country's 120,000 people with Parkinson's disease, is cheesed off with the way he is treated by the data crunchers. Because of his illness Charles, 67, is unable to commit to a regular nine-to-five job which means he gets a low score when it comes to looking for credit. So when it came to raising funds for a new kitchen and bathroom, modified to help him manage his disability, regular high street lenders gave him the brush-off.
A friend persuaded Charles to give credit unions a go and he approached YourCU for a loan to pay for the work. I was really impressed. I'd read about credit unions, but didn't know much about them. I was pleasantly surprised. The whole process was so easy and took just a couple of days. It was all very straightforward. They were satisfied I could pay back the loan and I wasn't made to feel like a second class citizen on account of my credit rating. They patiently took me through everything and talked with me about my individual circumstances and my loan was approved a short while after.
Despite his illness, which was diagnosed in 2007 Charles is still keeping his hand in. He came up with an idea for an app that makes a mobile phone easier to use and approached the charity Parkinson's UK. The nature of my illness means I never really know how I'm going to be from one day to the next. I might be fine to work several days a week, and the next not up to it at all. So this project has been amazing because it can work? around me so to speak. Charles teamed up with Parkinson's UK to launch the app known as EasyCall and a mobile phone deal that raises money for the charity at no extra cost to customers. And thanks to his YourCU loan Charles is now appreciating the benefits of his new kitchen and bathroom. The building work is now all done, and it's kitted out just the way I like it which makes life much easier.