PEOPLE are being left in dread of private moneylenders as they struggle to make ends meet ahead of the Christmas season.
Caitriona Twomey, head of soup kitchen charity, Cork Penny Dinners, said that a number of families are being forced to avail of moneylenders to get through the festive period.
Thousands of people in Ireland are paying interest rates and charges of up to 287% annually to borrow small amounts of money.
An estimated €153 million is currently owed to the country’s licensed moneylending firms, mainly by those with the lowest incomes.
Ms Twomey stressed that many of these borrowers have been left in emotional and financial turmoil and she pleaded with those experiencing hardship to seek help from the charity before turning to moneylenders.
"There are people who have come to us in tears because they're struggling to pay money back," she said.
"They have to avoid people calling and fear every knock on the door. When you're paying back a moneylender some bill has to give.
"It gets to a point where food is no longer affordable. We are advising people to come to us first rather than needing us later."
She highlighted the importance of Christmas to families and hit out at the sky-high interest rates being offered by legal moneylenders.
"Nobody wants to see a child disappointed on Christmas Day. Who's going to give more than a parent. Something badly needs to be done. Lending rates need to be reduced. Even if shops started taking deposits it would make things that bit more affordable."
Money, advice and budgeting service, Cork MABS Coordinator Margaret O'Neill, said there are alternative options for those under financial pressure.
"When people are stressed they're not thinking clearly," Margaret said.
"During times when a quick fix is needed, seeking out a money lender can seem like an extremely tempting option.
However, she warned spenders not to fall into a common trap.
"Your average money lender can end up setting you back almost 10 times as much as a credit union. We would recommend the 'It Makes Sense Loan', available in credit unions. If you're on social welfare turning to a money lender might seem like the only option but this loan is aimed at social welfare recipients and actually builds up one's credit rating.
"It gives people who need access to credit an affordable option."
She advised those budgeting ahead of Christmas.
"The ideal time to start saving for Christmas is in January but we realise there are so many draws on our account that this is not always realistic. Our advice to people planning for Christmas would be to map out ways we can make savings. Something might seem insurmountable, but in actual fact when it's down on paper it's a lot less frightening."