A Durham-based charity that works with social housing providers to help tenants access loans for vital household goods has received a £500,000 investment boost from the North East Social Investment Fund managed by Newcastle-based investor Northstar Ventures.
The Smarterbuys Store is a weekly payment store working in partnership with social landlords across the UK to give their tenants access to cheaper credit for white goods, TVs and furniture, as an alternative to having to turn to pay day loans and other high interest providers.
The charity was set up in 2012 in a partnership between an ethical community bank and an established housing association. The new funding from Northstar Ventures will help the charity to market its services directly to consumers on lower incomes, not just those who are social housing tenants.
Vicky McCourt, chief executive at Smarterbuys Store, said: “Northstar Ventures really understood our needs and our aim to expand our customer base and work more directly with consumers, and we are delighted to have its backing.
“Huge numbers of households are struggling to make ends meet, and when the washing machine or fridge breaks down they simply cannot find the cash to buy a new one.
“Lack of financial options means people on low incomes or with poor credit histories are being discriminated against, and can be forced into agreements with sky high interest rates, sometimes up to 1,500% APR, which only compound their financial difficulties.
“We believe it is possible to offer affordable and responsible finance. As a not for profit charity we have no shareholders to pay, which means we can charge lower interest rates and have a lower starting cash price. All our schemes include a savings element so people are guaranteed cashback at the end of the agreement, which encourages a savings culture among people who may never have had the chance to save before.
“This cash injection from Northstar Ventures means we can bring choice to those who have none, and will help us to help more people manage their money, build a positive credit history and improve their financial resilience.”
In March last year debt charity StepChange published a report showing an increase in the number of households relying on high interest credit to stay afloat. The report showed that 1.1 million households were using high cost credit for everyday household expenses in 2016, and that number had leaped to 1.4m in 2017.*
The Financial Conduct Authority announced a package of measures in May 2018 aimed at a crackdown on high interest lenders, after two years of investigation.
Alison Collins, investment manager at Northstar Ventures, said: “Our support for Smarterbuys Store, through our North East Social Investment Fund, is a great example of how the Fund can work with charities and social enterprises to create positive social impact.
“We look to support charities and social enterprises across the North East of England to help increase or protect an organisation’s ability to deliver social impact and we are very pleased to be part of this partnership, which is set to make a very real difference to people’s lives.”