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Struggling families warned over loan sharks

Denise McNamara



Local volunteers with the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) are warning that high interest moneylenders are ‘as active as ever’ in communities across Galway.

The society is urging anyone who is struggling – particularly with fuel and food this Christmas – to avoid getting into debt and reach out to the organisation if they need help.

“Using moneylenders is a practice SVP advises people to avoid if they can,” said a spokesman for the charity in Galway.

“Our members in Galway say that moneylenders are as active as ever. However, there are fewer families being helped by SVP who are using moneylenders.”

The charity recommends that families check out the Personal Micro-Credit (PMC) scheme which was specifically designed as an alternative to moneylenders and is offered to social welfare recipients and low-income households.

Also known as ‘It Makes Sense’ loans, they allow people to repay through the Household Budget Scheme administered by An Post or by a direct debit, building up their credit rating and giving access to more affordable credit.

If somebody takes out a €500 “It Makes Sense” loan, repaid over six months with an APR of 12.68% they will be charged interest of €15.84.

The same loan from a licensed moneylender at a rate of 187.2% APR – a very common rate for so-called ‘doorstep loans’ – will command €150 in interest.

“Many of the families we visit will struggle to make ends meet this Christmas and some will consider borrowing money to meet the extra expenses they face at this time of year,” SVP national president Kieran Stafford said.

“Being able to access affordable credit, rather than loans with extremely high interest rates is essential if families are to avoid becoming over-indebted.”

The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) also urged people to shun high interest moneylenders at all costs.

“Should they need to borrow, they should speak to their credit unions in the first instance where Christmas loans are straightforward, interest rates are capped by law and credit unions will work with their members to structure repayments in a way that suits their individual circumstances,” spokeswoman Lonán Paul of the Irish League of Credit Unions told the Galway City Tribune.

She stressed that 15 credit unions across Galway (including four in the city) are involved in the PMC scheme, which currently has 6,000 live loans.

“The long-term aim of the PMC is to graduate borrowers on the PMC to standard lending and ultimately to financial health and independence. Applicants for the loan do not already have to be members of the credit union once they live or work in the area.

“Loans issued under the scheme can be for any purpose. Credit unions exist solely to meet their members’ needs – they are not for profit institutions – and always stand ready and willing to offer affordable credit – with loans at reasonable rates, capped by law, unlike moneylenders.”

This week Retail Ireland predicted that Irish households will spend an average of €2,690 this Christmas, which is a 3% increase on the average spend last year and €866 more than any other month of the year.


Designated drinking zones in city centre are ‘only solution’

Stephen Corrigan



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Properly staffed designated areas are the only solution to out-of-control outdoor boozing, according to the city councillor who drafted the city’s drinking bylaws.

Cllr Peter Keane told the Galway City Tribune it was likely that councillors would seek to ‘tweak’ the existing bylaws in the near future to find a long-term solution that would enable young people to ‘enjoy a drink outdoors in a safe and controlled environment’, not just now, but in the future too.

To avoid a repeat of scenes around Spanish Arch over recent weekends, the Fianna Fáil councillor said providing areas where the consumption of alcohol was allowed would enable Gardaí to properly enforce the drinking bylaws throughout the rest of the city.

He said he could ‘absolutely appreciate the concerns of residents’ in the Claddagh and elsewhere where anti-social behaviour including urinating in gardens ‘and worse’ had been a blight in recent weeks, but said with proper control, those worst excesses could be avoided.

In the first ten days of June, 83 on-the-spot fines were issued in the city for drinking in a public place.

And last Saturday night, Gardaí closed off the Quincentenary Bridge after hundreds of young people gathered on the carriageway and turned it into a “highly-dangerous road traffic risk situation”.

“Control is the key word for me. Gardaí don’t have the resources, nor do they have the appetite as far as I can see, to deal with the lack of control there has been during the recent good weather.
“If you were to designate, say for example the Spanish Arch or a green area in Salthill, where the bylaws didn’t apply, you could put a number of wardens in place there to control the situation. You could provide adequate bins and toilets, and enough bodies to staff it, and that would allow gardaí to police the bylaws elsewhere,” said Cllr Keane.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and coverage of the re-opening of the hospitality sector and outdoor dining, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Dispute simmers between businesses and Council over outdoor spaces

Dara Bradley



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Friction between businesses and local government over the reclaiming of public space to facilitate outside hospitality marred the beginning of the city’s ‘outdoor summer’.

Galway City Council has come under fire over its handling of plans by bars and restaurants to use street furniture to facilitate outdoor dining and drinking.

Most city watering holes and eateries resumed trading on Bank Holiday Monday – serving outdoors only – for the first time since Christmas, and the authorities reported that it was successful for the most part, although it needed time to ‘bed in’.

The city vintners’ group said its members with adequate outdoor space were happy to be back and described the mood as ‘euphoric’ in places.

But several outlets expressed disappointment with the Council.

In Eyre Square, the Skeff Late Bar and Kitchen claimed it had to cancel 200 advance bookings – up to 800 people – for this week, after the Council refused permission for “extended outdoor seating”.

On Middle Street, Sangria Tapas Restaurant lashed the Council for refusing it permission to use certain types of awning and windbreakers to facilitate outdoor dining. “Surely the powers that be can take time to support the industry that supports the city?” its proprietor said in a complaint to City Hall.

‘Back the West’, businesses criticised the Council for rowing back on promises to provide additional outdoor space on Dominick Street Lower and Dominick Street Upper, in time for outdoor hospitality’s reopening on June 7.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Council chief: ‘landlords see 4% rent increase cap as a target’

Enda Cunningham



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said that the 4% annual cap on residential rent increases is now seen as a target by many landlords.

Brendan McGrath said that affordability continues to be a major problem for renters in the city and that an increasing number of people availing of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme have to pay ‘top ups’ to their landlords.

The HAP scheme replaces rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need – the individual finds a private rented accommodation within specific rent caps and the Council pays the landlord directly. The tenant then pays a rent to the Council based on their weekly household income.

The maximum monthly rents under the scheme range from €330 for an adult in shared accommodation to €900 for a single parent or couple with three kids.

Based on their household size, tenants can also apply for a 20% extra ‘discretionary’ payment on top of their HAP payment.

However, Mr McGrath said many on the HAP scheme in Galway have to pay top ups to their landlords.

“Rents as a percentage of income is increasing and affordability remains a major problem for the city’s renters. The majority of HAP tenants require additional discretionary payments to assist them in maintaining their tenancies, particularly single person households.

“An increasing number of HAP tenants now have to pay top ups to their landlords even with the 20% extra HAP discretionary payment applied for their particular household size,” Mr McGrath said in a report to councillors.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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