London payday lenders targeted by protesters calling for change

Local members of a national group representing low- and middle-income families demonstrated Thursday against payday loan and check cashing operators.

ACORN Canada members conducted an awareness campaign aimed at putting pressure on high interest lenders.

The small protest at 5 p.m. was one of many demonstrations across Canada, timed to raise awareness on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people struggling to support themselves and their families nationwide.

London-based ACORN Canada member Claire Wittnebel says they are being exploited by what she calls “predatory lenders”.

“People don’t come here [payday loan locations] because they want to, they come here because they have no other options. We want more options to be available. If that’s the only option, we want it to be more controlled and less predatory,” she said.

Members say a federal Liberal promise to reign in high-interest lenders has yet to be fulfilled. They say this needs to be a priority, especially as pandemic grants end.

ACORN says its own survey found that more than 83% of people applying for payday loans and installment loans do so just to meet their basic needs, including food and rent.

Londoner Betty Morrison, who is on disability, says she is one of them.Londoner Betty Morrison tells CTV News she’s struggling to repay a payday loan, March 31, 2022. (Sean Irvine/CTV News)“It’s an endless cycle. You always borrow from one to pay the other, to borrow from the other. And you get to a point where you just don’t know where to turn,” she says.

It’s the same story for a mom who’s been trying to pay off a $300 loan for two years. Still, Dezeare Sturgeon says all she can manage to cover is the $40 monthly interest.

“I will never be free. I just can’t afford to do it. I will be stuck in this forever,” she explains.

ACORN says payday loans are only part of the problem. The group backs installment loans, which typically start at $1,500 and often carry an interest rate of 60%.

Members are calling on the federal government to force high-interest lenders to reduce the number to no more than 30%, including fees.

They also want more loan options for people facing financial insecurity, including Morrison.

She says she is about to lose her apartment because its landlord is selling to take advantage of the booming property market.

Meanwhile, as Morrison struggles with payday loans for food, she can’t find affordable housing.

“Rejected by the owners, rejected by everyone because of my income. It’s just crazy,” she said.