Council leaders have warned people not to use loan sharks after latest figures show debt advice enquiries have hit a record high.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for tougher sentences for illegal money lenders who usually charge sky-high interest rates and rely on extortion for repayments.
Figures show that 12,652 people a week in the UK are seeking help for problem debt – the equivalent of one person every 48 seconds.
Cllr Morris Bright, vice chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: ‘Illegal money lenders are bullies who charge astronomical interest rates and subject their victims to intimidation and violence when they often struggle to repay their loans at rates they simply can’t afford.
'There are much better, safer and cheaper ways people can manage their money. Anyone struggling with debt problems can contact their local council or advice provider first. There are also charities offering similar services. These will all be focused on offering genuine help in the most affordable way, rather than unscrupulous loan sharks who profit from other people’s misery and should be avoided at all costs.’
The LGA highlighted the fact some councils have established discretionary hardship funds, while others are using data to intervene earlier by identifying people with low-level payment difficulties.