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Credit Union (Armed Forces)

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 18 December 2013

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the establishment of a credit union for members of the armed forces and family members who live in the same household; and for connected purposes.

The Bill is designed to ensure that our soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel on lower incomes have access to low-cost loans and other low-cost financial services and, as a result, are not vulnerable to high-interest payday loan businesses. I should declare at the outset that I am a member of my local credit union, M for Money, which serves my constituency in Harrow, and also of the Rainbow Saver credit union.

Credit unions are financial co-operatives. They are one powerful demonstration of how through pooling our efforts and through co-operation with others, we can each become better off. Those of us who champion credit unions have always believed that what makes them different from other financial services providers is not just the lower interest rates they offer, but their mission to operate for the benefit of their communities, to retain money in local economies and to empower people, especially those often unable to access credit elsewhere. Key to credit unions is a common bond between the members, who in turn are the investors and consumers—indeed, they can also serve as directors. It is, in essence, about people in the same community looking out for each other but benefiting directly themselves from a service that they are able to provide together.

As many in this House will recognise, many successful credit unions are already operating in the UK: the police credit union has 21,000 members, has been going for 10 years and has Lord Stevens, the former head of the Metropolitan police, as its president; the former British Airways credit union, which is now known as Plane Saver and covers more than just British Airways, has more than 7,500 staff as members; and the London mutual credit union, with its origins in Southwark, has more than 15,000 member owners, and offers competitive online and affordable payday loan services. For a 30-day, £400 payday loan, the LMCU charges, typically, an interest rate of 27%, or £19. For the same loan, a commercial payday loan company might charge an annual percentage rate of 5,600%, or £127. In short, it might be £108 more expensive for the same amount over the same period. That shows the kind of service that should specifically be available to our servicemen and women, and their families: a low-cost credit union. Only a credit union—a financial co-operative—would be able to offer such a service.

My Bill specifically draws inspiration from the biggest and most successful credit union in the world. A rear-admiral of the US navy and former commander of the American enterprise battle group is probably not the most obvious enthusiast for financial co-operatives, yet Rear-Admiral Cutler Dawson is president and chief executive officer of Navy Federal, the world’s largest credit union. It is based in the United States and serves all Department of Defence and Coast Guard active duty, civilian and contractor personnel, and their families. Rear-Admiral Dawson previously served in the United States navy for some 34 years.

Navy Federal was founded by its members in 1933, when soldiers returning from war were unable to access affordable credit. It now offers a service to US special forces, navy cooks, veterans and the families of servicemen and women. In the US, payday lenders used to target military bases, trying to hook American sailors and soldiers with their high-cost financial services, yet Navy Federal is able to offer some of the most highly competitive financial services in the US market. Indeed, Navy Federal now holds some $55 billion in assets, and has some 4 million members, 235 branches around the world and a work force of more than 11,000 employees. Surely our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and their families, could benefit from a similar credit union.

My Bill aims to address the growing fears that low-paid service personnel are having to turn to payday loan companies to get through the last week of each month. Research by the Royal British Legion found that about a third of veterans, including almost half of the recently injured, experience financial difficulties, leading many into unaffordable levels of debt. The RBL’s dedicated benefits and money advice service helped some 2,500 people in its first year, 2007, but last year that figure rose to more than 11,000 Army personnel being helped out, and the RBL predicts that the figure will keep rising.

We know from the Debt Advice Foundation that one in four people who take out payday loans need the money to buy food or essentials, with 44% using them to pay off other debts. Similarly, Citizens Advice research has shown a fourfold rise in just two years in the number of people coming to their citizens advice bureau with debt problems as a result of taking out payday loans. I have spoken to the chief executives of many citizens advice bureaux located close to military bases and I have heard about some of our soldiers and sailors who are facing real financial difficulties. One serving Army soldier who was living in MOD accommodation with his wife and children had two payday loans, one for £435 and one for £375, both due for payment at the beginning of the month. If he failed to repay the loans in full, he incurred an £80 charge for deferring them. He was in a vicious circle. If he repaid the loans, he was left without sufficient funds to finance his monthly expenditure and again had to take out a payday loan to manage until the end of the month.

It is a story that many of us will have heard time and again in our own constituency surgeries—a small loan that, through huge interest rates, gets bigger and bigger. Of course it is true that families across the UK are feeling the pinch, and we need a major expansion in the promotion of and access to credit unions across the UK. A levy on the profits of the payday lenders could help to drive that expansion of low-cost financial services that credit unions offer. I hope the House will recognise that serving personnel and veterans face particular challenges. Surely it is time to inject new energy into the credit union market and take the steps necessary to address this particular problem for our soldiers and sailors.

I must give some credit to the Government. There has been some interest in this matter from the Ministry of Defence, but I say gently that it is at best tentative. Ministers need to show more enthusiasm and energy for this most basic of services that our troops should be able to expect. When US soldiers, sailors and marines are on active service duty, they can focus on their day job without worrying about their financial affairs at home. The British armed forces surely deserve the same support. I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Usually we are content with a factual list, rather than a Member putting a divisible proposition to the House, but we will manage; it is Christmas.


That Mr Gareth Thomas, Mr Andrew Love, Meg Hillier, Stella Creasy, Mrs Louise Ellman, Seema Malhotra, Mr Adrian Bailey, Stephen Twigg, Tom Greatrex, Stephen Doughty, Mr Ian Davidson and Mr Steve Reed present the Bill.

Mr Gareth Thomas accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February 2014, and to be printed (Bill 148).