AN ethical lending revolution is taking hold in Bolton — with more and more people turning to a not-for-profit co-operative for their borrowing needs.
The Hoot Credit Union in Ashburner Street has its roots in Bolton Quid’s In, which first opened for business in 2005.
Shortly after its launch, Quids In merged with the long-established Johnson Fold Credit Union to create a borough-wide organisation It enrolled its 1,000th member days before its first anniversary in 2006, making it one of the fastest growing credit unions in the UK.
It has continued to go from strength to strength and has seen a boom in the last two years, with 14 collection points now spread across the borough.
Priding itself on “ethical lending”, Hoot has five full-time staff, supported by volunteers, and has won praise from Bolton councillors on all sides of the political fence, including Labour’s Cllr Kate Challender and the Conservatives’ Cllr Bob Allen.
Owned and controlled by its members, Hoot says it only allows people to borrow what they can afford to repay and offers lower interest rates than typical doorstep lenders, with profits not going to shareholders but being reinvested back into the organisation and for funding dividends for members.
When customers make loan repayments they are also encouraged to save, so that when they emerge from debt they also have a pot of savings, which the organisation said helps to educate customers on how to better manage their finances.
Volunteer coordinator Samantha Marshall said: “People think of a credit unions as a poor man’s bank, but we’re not, we’re here for everyone in Bolton.
“It’s an ethical way of lending which puts money back into the local economy.”
Hoot provides loans ranging from £100 to £5,000 and also has a deal with the Co-Operative group to provide lower priced white goods.
She said: “For £499 you can get an electric cooker, fridge freezer and a washing machine, and it’s all interest free if the goods are A rated as being energy efficient.”
Margaret Warrington, aged 70, of Breightmet, fell into financial difficulties before turning to Hoot and now said she would never go anywhere else.
She said: “I was struggling to pay so I came to Hoot and I cleared all my debts.
“I’ll stay with Hoot now and have told my granddaughter about it as well.
“It’s better than just keeping on taking loans out.”
Samantha said: “With Margaret she wanted to borrow £400, but we said ‘why not borrow £200 first, and then when you’ve paid it back, borrow another £200’.
“She was also able to save some money too.
“If it was a doorstep lender they would have given her the full £400 and what they want is for you to take out another loan when you’re finished.”
She said: “We have a lot of support behind us from Bolton Council and Bolton at Home.
“It’s about planning what you want to save or what you want to lend for, and you can also build up your credit rating.”
Hoot manager David Batten said: “In the months leading up to Christmas we lent out more than £185,000.
“If these people had gone to doorstep lenders the cost of borrowing this would have been £87,420, compared to £25,013 for borrowing from Hoot, saving the people of Bolton more than £62,000.
“Obviously going to a payday lender the costs would be even higher.”
He said: “The interest we charge goes towards the running of the credit union and any surplus is returned to the members rather than lining the pockets of shareholders.
“It is a condition of borrowing from us that people save as well.
“For some people this can be the first time they've saved and builds a pot of savings for next year.
“Also, all of our savings are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, unlike hamper and voucher schemes.”
Hoot is based in Ashburner Street and can be contacted on 01204 365024.