Financial exclusion charity steps up in cost of living crisis

3 October 2022

Guernsey Community Savings (GCS) is stepping up its efforts to reach out to people who have been financially excluded as the charity reaches its two-year mark.

Since it was set up at the end of September 2020, GCS has provided life-changing support to more than 100 islanders who had previously been financially excluded from society because they didn’t have a bank account. The charity ensures that each of its clients has an easy-to-use online account, a debit card, and a means of building up savings. As well as supporting the clients who have been set up with an account, the charity also offers financial management education to those who need it, including running six-week programmes with the education department at Guernsey Prison.

GCS managing director Jane Kerins says, ‘With the cost of living crisis, Guernsey Community Savings is needed more than ever and we are stepping up our efforts to reach out to people and let them know we are here through pop-in sessions at the office, going out to meet local groups, fund-raising events and through the media and social media. 

‘More and more local people are experiencing difficulties opening a bank account or are finding that the bank has closed their account because of debt problems, a poor credit history or simply because of a pattern of transactions that isn’t acceptable to the bank’s algorithm.

‘We are also stepping up our efforts to raise funds to ensure our vital work can continue, including grant applications, fund-raising events and appealing directly to the public to contribute.’

A new ‘pop in for coffee, cake and a chat’ session will run on the second Thursday of every month from 10.00 to 13.00, starting on 13 October. GCS team members will be on hand to meet and chat with existing and potential clients as well as with the charity’s volunteers and funders.

GCS team members are also going out to run sessions at local groups such as Bright Beginnings, Grow and the Kindred Family Centre. And a fund-raising quiz evening will be held at KGV on 20 October.

The Patron of GCS is the Bailiff Richard McMahon who says, ‘By arranging basic banking services for Guernsey residents who have been unable to obtain accounts, Guernsey Community Savings enables them to take their place in and contribute to their community. The charity is providing a vital service – it is an essential piece of what can be a complicated social jigsaw puzzle.

‘It is clear people are confident in the wonderfully simple process and appreciate the personal approach and dedicated support of the team.’

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No figures are collected on the extent of financial exclusion in Guernsey. But applying to Guernsey the latest UK figure of just under one million unbanked people  would mean at least 1000 islanders do not have access to basic banking services. If anything, the situation could be worse in Guernsey because in the UK the larger current account providers are required by law to offer fee-free basic bank accounts to customers who are unbanked whereas in Guernsey they are not.

Jane continues, ‘‘Our vision is that no-one in the Bailiwick of Guernsey will be financially excluded from being part of and contributing to their community. We know there are many more people out there who need our services and we are determined to reach out to them.

‘We help people who have no access to banking, either because the bank has closed their account, or because they have a poor credit history, or because they simply don’t have the documentation required to open a regular bank account.

‘Without a bank account, people can find it difficult to rent somewhere to live or be employed. And as retailers move away from cash, and goods and services move online they are excluded not just from financial services but from the opportunity to access products at the optimum prices. 

‘We are supporting people who have spent years being knocked back, turned away and let down by the system. It has been incredibly rewarding for all of us at GCS to be able to arrange banking services for our clients and help them to manage their money.

‘A debit card isn't the be all and end all, but it is a big step in the right direction. It's about being able to hold your head high and gain self-esteem, being equal to the other shoppers in the queue, your mates at the bar or other parents at school.’

Referrals to Guernsey Community Savings usually come from agencies such as Guernsey Prison, the Office for Employment and Social Security, the Guernsey Employment Trust, Citizens Advice Guernsey and Bright Beginnings. The charity is also able to help people who refer themselves.

Jane concludes, ‘We are very grateful for all the support that GCS has received since our Chairman Peter Neville embarked on the project several years ago. 

‘We’ve received major grants from the Guernsey Community Foundation, Lloyds Bank Foundation for the Channel Islands and the Social Investment Fund and generous funding from Butterfield Bank, Skipton International, EFG Offshore, Cazenove Capital and RBS International. 

‘VFX Financial, our principal partners in this initiative, have been superb. The Sure Community Foundation has donated £2,000 worth of equipment and credit. Voluntary support has been particularly important, including a regular supply of volunteers from Butterfield Bank. And this summer, it was great to be one of the two charities chosen to benefit from the Round Table’s Harbour Carnival.’

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