Everyone it seems has a shocking story about payday loans. Even my taxi driver.
“My wife’s uncle borrowed £500 to repair his car, and now he owes them £16,000. It has totally ruined him,” he says.
Fed up with such stories, and pilloried by MPs, local authorities, newspapers and even the Archbishop of Canterbury, the payday loans industry is now fighting to improve its reputation.
“Our detractors are miscommunicating by calling this industry legal loan sharking. Because it is blurring the edges for people as to what a loan shark actually is,” says Caroline Walton, corporate affairs director of Dollar Financial UK, which owns The Money Shop.
So for the first time in its 13-year history, the biggest payday lender on the High Street agreed to give the BBC access to one of its branches.
Until now The Money Shop has refused to allow any journalist to meet its customers, or watch the lending process.
Which is why my taxi driver is taking me to Bulwell, a suburb of Nottingham where The Money Shop has two of its 575 branches.
The shop – plate glass and bright yellow – faces onto the High Street for all the world like it is a shiny new branch of a bank.
But are the loans on offer here, with typical APRs of 3,000%, really the evil they have been made out to be?
‘Banks don’t help’
“Can I take out one of them payday loans?” refuse collector Chris Riley asks at the counter.
Twenty minutes later, he walks out of the store with £150 cash in a brown envelope.
“Just to help me out till I get paid at the end of the month,” he explains.
On his salary of £13,500 a year, he says he will pay it back “no problem”.
Behind him is Damien McGlinchey, a 27-year-old care worker, who has popped in to pay off his loan of £280, which was for a rather more frivolous purpose.
“I was struggling to pay for my birthday party,” he says. “It was quite a big do.”
But what unites all the customers is dissatisfaction with banks.
“The banks don’t help,” maintains Chris Riley.
“They wouldn’t give us an overdraft, even though I’m on a salary.”
The real sharks?
But Caroline Walton insists her company’s charges are justified.
“Someone comes in to the store, you’ve never seen them before, you’ve got to invest in all the security, you’ve got to train your staff, and yet £29 is seen as profiteering,” she told the BBC.
She also warns that if customers cannot get a loan through a payday lender, they are likely to turn to unregulated lenders.
“The consequences are not just financial. They are physical consequences – intimidation, and threatening you through your family,” she says.
She says such people, who “operate under the radar”, are the real sharks.