Massive government cuts to trading standards staff have left Britain's poorest exposed to loan sharks, public-sector union Unison warned today.
The union said the coalition had already slashed 15 per cent of the trading standards workforce and that legal and illegal loan sharks could seize on the massive drop in activity to take advantage of Britain's most vulnerable people.
The union said the cuts meant workers who identify and crack down on loan sharks are overstretched and all of trading standards' educational work has stopped.
A massive 85 per cent of staff fear the public are more likely to turn to unscrupulous lenders in hard times, according to a Unison survey into the crippling Con-Dem cuts to public services.
Unison national trading standards officer Helga Pile said the services needed investment to stop loan sharks preying on the public.
She said: "A properly funded and efficient trading standards service actually benefits the economy, returning an average of £6 for every £1 invested, while protecting the interests of legitimate businesses and keeping the public safe."
One trading standards officers told the investigation money lenders were cold-calling people in "less affluent areas" with offers of non-existent loans that they had to pay money to release.
Another frustrated officer explained: "Consumers may be tempted to use the pay day loans that seem to advertise everywhere - while just legal, the interest repayments are extraordinary."
The Morning Star reported last year that "pay-day lender" Wonga registered profits of £46 million by ripping-off hard pressed people with an astonishing interest rate of 4,214 per cent per annum.
Labour MP John Robertson has been part of the parliamentary campaign to clamp down on Wonga and other legal loan sharks.
He told the Star today that it was "absolutely appalling that, at a time when more and more people are turning to these companies as a last resort, the government continues to cut hard and fast without thinking about the consequences.
"Loan sharks profit from people at their most vulnerable and we need to keep a very close eye on this practice."
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