Committee for Enterprise Trade and Investment Calls on Treasury and DETI to Support Reforms to Credit Union Legislation

Session: 2009/2010

Date: 21 January 2010

Reference: ETI 02/09/10

The Northern Ireland Assembly Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee is calling on Treasury Secretary Ian Pearson, MP to support amendments to the Financial Services Bill in Westminster next week to enable credit unions in Northern Ireland to provide a wider range of services.

The amendments tabled by Mark Durkan, MP, MLA, will be a major first step in permitting credit unions here to provide the same range of services as their counterparts in Great Britain. The Committee has also asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment, Arlene Foster to contact the Treasury Secretary to stress the importance of the amendments and the sense of urgency that exists here in relation to permitting credit unions to provide additional services.

Speaking for the Committee, Chairperson, Alban Maginness said, “We have a narrow window of opportunity to bring forward this important legislation before a general election is called. The credit union movement is vital but the restrictions on the services they can offer is disadvantaging the people who rely on them. If a person does not have access to a bank account they are unable to avail of important schemes such as Child Trust Funds; if they don’t have a credit rating they become reliant on doorstep lenders who charge exorbitant rates. All this can leave people socially excluded and in grave financial difficulty.

If we don’t take the opportunity to address this now it could be years before further progress is made. The Committee is urging Ian Pearson, as Treasury Secretary, to do all that he can to push these amendments through.”

In February last year the Committee reported the findings of its inquiry into the role and potential of credit unions in Northern Ireland. The report emphasised the role that credit unions play here in promoting financial well-being including improving access to financial services for low income and vulnerable groups and in increasing financial inclusion. It also highlighted the wide discrepancies that exist between services which credit unions in Great Britain can provide and those that Northern Ireland Credit Unions can provide.

Deputy Chair of the Committee, Paul Butler, MLA added, “It’s now almost a year since the Committee reported its findings and made its recommendations to enable credit unions to expand their services. In that time there has been little progress. It is not acceptable for this to drag on any further, especially when a swift and workable resolution is in front of us. The DETI Minister has signalled her support for the Committee’s findings and her intention to bring forward changes to legislation, and a report from the Treasury in July also supported the Committee’s findings. If everybody is in agreement, as they seem to be, this is an obvious first important step to a better future for credit unions and for financially excluded people here.”