‘No loan is too small’ as credit union pitches for business among Dublin 15’s migrant communities
2014-03-15 01:28:14 -
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A credit union at the heart of one of Dublin’s most diverse postcodes is reaching out to immigrant residents, offering access financial services that they might be denied elsewhere.

Groups of foreign nationals who have arrived over the last 10 or 15 years have sometimes found it tough to access credit, but there are options for them, says Aidan O’Brien, chief executive of the Community Credit Union in Blanchardstown.


“The key message is that the credit union is there for them, and it’s a valuable resource and we treat people equally and fairly.”

The bulk of a credit union’s work is savings and loans, says O’Brien, whose branch offers has a number of different accounts to help people save. Customers also get a share in the distribution of surplus at the end of the year.
Loans are available for pretty much everything from home improvements and holidays, to back-to-school expenses, says O’Brien.


“No loan is too small.”

And customers don’t have to worry about passing on debt to future generations. The credit union insures loans so that if a member dies, the debt doesn’t pass on to their next of kin.


Barriers

Notwithstanding such efforts to reach minority communities, there are still many barriers to accessing financial services, says Nuala Ni Ghabhann, co-ordinator at the National Traveller Money Advice and Budgeting Service (NT Mabs) which advocates for financial inclusion for Traveller communities and other ethnic minorities.

The biggest issue NT Mabs encounters is a problem with adequate ID or proof of address. If you get a group of people living together in one house, as often happens with lower-income groups, some won’t have their name on any utility bills which are often requested by institutions. “Unfortunately, the guidelines [for ID and proof of address] are quite broad,” she says. “Different credit unions can implement their own regulations” which can lead to confusion. She underlines that people should be aware of this and try to get their names on any utility bills.

Immigrants can also find it difficult to prove their credit worthiness if they are only recently arrived in Ireland.
In such cases, the Community Credit Union (CCU) will look at their saving patterns for evidence of “a willingness and ability to commit to regular contribution to an organisation, ” says O’Brien. They will also ask to see documents such as proof of employment.

The CCU has also put together information leaflets in Chinese, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Polish to try to draw in customers who may lack fluency in English.

“What we are conscious of is that credit unions were founded for people who were excluded,” says O’Brien, emphasising that the CCU is trying to honour that tradition.


Lending restrictions

Meanwhile, Ni Ghabhann says she’s concerned that more people are being driven into the hands of both legal and illegal moneylenders because of current restrictions on lending by credit unions.

Some credit unions across the country have been criticised for getting caught in the slipstream of larger banks’ lending frenzy during the Celtic Tiger years, and indulging in loose lending practices of their own.

Regulators have been concerned about the high level of arrears across the 392 credit unions in the country, and have ordered nearly 200 of them to restrict their lending.

These restrictions mean that in order to get larger amounts, customers must have borrowed smaller amounts three times, says Ni Ghabhann. “People need to be aware of that, and build it into their planning. ”
The CCU has had some restrictions, but it hasn’t had a dramatic impact on their lending, says O’Brien.
“Our members, both Irish and foreign national, have wisely become more cautious about borrowing so few loans have been declined by reason of exceeding [the set] limit.”

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