A CREDIT union has been set up to help north Kent residents struggling during the economic downturn.

Kent Savers was launched on yesterday and is based at the Old Town Hall in High Street, Gravesend, and will help people on low incomes avoid having to go to loan sharks for cash.

The non-profit making co-operative offers low interest loans and savings accounts to the 1.6m people across Kent, making it the widest-reaching credit union in the UK.

Kent County Council (KCC) was instrumental in establishing the union, providing £350,000, after being contacted by people across the county who had been preyed on by loan sharks.

Cabinet member for regeneration and economic development Kevin Lynes said: “We see this initiative as a vital resource to help the people of Kent.

“There are a number of areas in the county where there is an awful lot of depedendency on loan sharks because high street banks are not giving out loans.

“This union will give people an alternative to loan sharks, who charge exorbitant amounts of interest, and also offer advice on financial management.”

The typical APR for a loan from Kent Savers is 26.8 per cent, which compares with 2,689 per cent from an instant cash company.

Chairwoman of Kent Savers’ board of directors Ursula Wacher says its aim is to help people in need, not exploit them for profit.

She added: “As it is an independent co-operative, Kent Savers does not issue large bonuses to its staff but reinvests profits within new loans schemes and ethical investment.”

Kent Savers chief officer John Fowler added: “We have a responsibility to target areas of deprivation as the benefits of the credit union can be most pronounced there.“ For more information, go to kentsavers.co.uk or call 0300 456 9990.