People with convictions and their families face significant difficulties in accessing basic financial services which imped reintegration. Time is Money (Unlock: 2010) concluded that socially focused, not-for-profit credit unions are in a unique position to support people with these issues. In addition to products offered by banks, they provide affordable loans, money advice, access to PayPoint facilities and even access to easy payment and affordable electrical goods. Further, their approach is favourable to people reintegrating into the community. Their wide experience of the needs of low-income individuals assists the financially excluded to build financial stability and security. As a result of our banking project, Unlock identified a number of credit unions working with prisons and others interested in developing links. However, there is no sharing of best practice and no strategic approach to supporting these developments. The ultimate aim is to enable people who are serving, or have served, a prison or community sentence and their families, to access community financial services through the development of partnerships between credit unions and justice agencies in England & Wales.
In order to explore whether credit union membership could provide a bridge to community reintegration, particularly for those leaving prison, Unlock initiated a research project in partnership with the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). The project conducted participative, action-oriented research into the benefits, barriers and options for the strategic expansion of credit union financial services. It highlighted 13 credit unions working in partnership with 21 local prisons providing savings accounts to people in prison with some offering a current account on release.
Unlock’s research report was launched at an event chaired by Damian Hinds MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions at its meeting on 16 January 2013 at the Palace of Westminster.