Thursday, 18 August 2016


This week has been an exciting time for many families around the country with over 57,000 students receiving their leaving certificate results. Many will focus on the likelihood of a college place as the first round of CAO offers arrive in the coming weeks. Thoughts will now turn to registrations fees, rent and accommodation and the day to day costs of college life.
To get an overview of just how parents and students manage these costs, this week the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) published the results of its annual ‘Cost of Third Level Education’ study. The third level education research asked both parents and students about how they meet the costs of third level education and the financial challenges facing families around the country. The results highlight what the impact of sending children to college (in financial terms) has on family spending and budgets as well as the challenges and concerns parents have in relation to finance, debt, accommodation, course choice and job prospects.


87% (down from 94% in 2015) of parents in Ireland support their children with college related cost by contributing an average of €447 per month per child with 62% of family budgets have been adversely affected by the increased registration fee. 73% of parents say they will struggle with the costs of college. In terms of how parents cover the costs - monthly income followed by credit union loans and savings are the most common ways in which parents pay for college. 
60% of parents expect to get into debt in order to finance the cost of third level education for their children. €4,300 is the average debt per child, per annum that parents will incur. Parents are saving for an average of 8 years to ensure they have enough savings to cover the cost of sending their children to college. The average amount being saved is €8,150.
Getting a job after college is, in 2016 the biggest concern for parents (32%). Passing exams ranks second (17%) closely followed by misuse of drink / drugs (17%, up from 10% in 2015).

For those students funding their college education, paid employment is the most common method used by 26% of students (down from 29% in 2015). Existing savings are the next most popular way in which students pay for their college experience (22%). This is followed by the grant (17%), money from parents (14%) and a credit union loan (9%). Only 33% of students have received advice on (or have been offered) advice on payment plans by their educational provider to help meet costs.
Not surprisingly, students living away from home are spending almost twice as much as those living at home. On average those living away from home are spending €1,048 per month on rent, transport, living and college related expenses. Students living at home are spending on average €530, up from €474 in 2015.
68% of students will work through the college term. Students are working an average of 17 hours per week, getting paid an average of €12 per hour.
Male students are working longer hours at 21 hours per week compared to females who are working an average of 15 hours per week. Male students are earning an average of €252 per week, (down from €336 in 2015) and female students are earning an average of €180 per week, down significantly from €262 per week in 2015.
23% (down from 33% in 2015) of students skip lectures to work during the college term. More females students (25%) than male students (19%) doing so.
Passing exams (83% up from 74% in 2015) continues to be the biggest worry for 3rd level students followed by personal finances and debt as the second biggest worry (57% in 2016 to 60% in 2015). Other worries revolve around quality of their course (44%), not getting a job (40%) or finding their course too difficult (38%)
Availability of accommodation (56%) and the expense of renting (33%) are the main reasons behind why students find it difficult to find suitable accommodation for college. 67% of students are extremely worried that will not be able to find suitable accommodation for the coming academic year. 9 in 10 students view the cost of student accommodation as very high.
Interest continues to be the primary consideration for choosing a college course (39% up from 35% in 2015). This is followed by job prospects (24%) and location 17%) and college reputation (9%.)
Heading off to college is an exciting time. It can also be very stressful for parents and students alike, as the cost of third level education can be a significant burden. Families are already struggling with the wider impact of austerity and paying for college has become increasingly challenging for many. Some financial institutions try to attract students by offering short term deals to open an account or offer an interest free period on a loan before a higher rate kicks in. This is not how credit unions operate. Credit unions offer loans at fair rates with flexibility to meet members’ needs. Each credit union sets its own interest rates and has its own loan criteria.  Your local credit union can give you details of their current interest rates.  Many credit unions offer dedicated student/education loan rates, which are often significantly less than their standard loan rate. This helps to make financing third level education as affordable as possible for students.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Credit Unions stand ready to help solve social housing issues

  The housing strategy (Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness) launched by Simon Coveney T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, is ambitious and absolutely critical. We are all too keenly aware of the housing crisis which we face, including the struggles faced by young people in trying to buy their own homes, the rapid rise in rental prices particularly in urban areas, the thousands of people who find themselves in a long queue for social housing and indeed the stark increase in homelessness and people living in long-term emergency accommodation. 

  While there are many positive measures in the report, the announcement of the provision of 47,000 social housing units by 2021, at a cost of €5.35 billion, is particularly welcomed and is a very significant move in tackling the huge challenges which are faced in this area.  

  Credit unions affiliated to the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) have in excess of €8.5bn held in surplus funds. It is a long held aspiration of the credit union movement to be able to use these funds in a way that is both more sustainable and socially aware. To this end, the provision by credit unions of funding for social housing is a key policy platform of the Irish League of Credit Unions and one which we have raised repeatedly with Government and other key stakeholders.

  This housing report is the most far reaching in terms of its expected outcomes but it is not the first. It is one thing to have the political will to address the unacceptable situation of homelessness and people living in long term emergency accommodation. It is another to develop an appropriate funding mechanism to make these desired developments a reality. 

  In June 2016, the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness made a number of priority recommendations including that Government should establish an off-balance sheet funding mechanism for social housing and should seek to mobilise as quickly as possible, all possible sources of funding, including funding from the Irish League of Credit Unions. 

  The ILCU welcomes the commitment in the Action Plan regarding the “..establishment of an Innovation Fund to support the development by AHBs (Approved Housing Bodies) of innovative financial models..” and that “Support will be provided from this Fund to an Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH)/ sector-led new special purpose vehicle, involving investors, including the credit union movement”.

  By enabling the allocation of some surplus funds to social housing, the credit union movement could go a long way towards meeting the Government’s funding requirement of €5.35 billion. The key benefit for the Government of this proposition would be that this would enable the Government Strategy to be fulfilled over short, medium and long term time-horizons. Credit unions could become a significant funder of the social housing strategy.

  The key benefit for the population as a whole is obvious; the creation of a sustainable supply of social housing opportunities for those in need. And for credit unions, it would provide a modest return, while enabling excess funds to be used in a method which is core to the ethos of credit unions, to directly support people and communities to meet their social and financial needs. Furthermore, the ILCU believes that if the provision of funds by credit unions for social housing proves to be workable, it could perhaps be used as a template for investing funds in other social or community initiatives.

  The report notes that good housing anchors strong communities. As credit union members the length and breadth of the country will testify, local credit unions can also help to anchor the communities which they serve, providing critical financial services to all on a not-for-profit basis. Credit unions stand ready and willing to assist in helping to solve the huge social housing issues which the country faces.

Friday, 15 July 2016


Every credit union has a core…a core ethos that together we can do more, we can build a movement fast approaching half a million members in Northern Ireland alone, and a core belief in the need to provide access to affordable credit to every member of their local community.
At that core, and the beating heart of every credit union, are people. Like you and I, ordinary people who believed in this movement enough to dedicate their time, passion and knowledge.
It has been a huge year for local credit unions across Northern Ireland with more than one in three adults now members of our community based movement. Across Northern Ireland, our membership of 464,000 people has given us a fantastic base to provide more affordable loans to families and individuals to help make ends meet.
The figures speak for themselves – with £467 million put into the local economy in loans to members, and there is a similar amount available for those who need our support in the future.  Our credit unions in the province are a huge part of that success story. They are providing a community based financial service without the burden of huge paybacks or indeed the fear of that unexpected knock on the door.
The loans they are providing are filling oil tanks, meeting school and college costs, providing for major family celebrations, helping with big household purchases and of course assisting those who have suddenly found themselves out of pocket through no fault of their own.
It is important that as a movement we acknowledge the role of our members, volunteers, staff, managers and boards in each of the local credit unions for holding true to their community centred approach and values – and ensuring that at all times we are an organisation where members come first.
The economic turbulence of the past years has presented many challenges and opportunities for credit unions in Northern Ireland from both a regulatory and service provision point of view. We welcomed over 90,000 new members through our doors throughout the recession years; unprecedented at a time of such enormous financial instability. It is therefore vitally important that we do not underestimate the increasingly important role that credit unions can play in our economic recovery and future financial service provision.
When you look at the success on the ground in local communities and Northern Ireland as a whole it is perhaps no surprise that we have been selected to host a gathering of the World Council of Credit Unions this July. It is true we fought off stiff international competition to win this honour, but it is equally true that it was the strength of our membership and the impact we are having locally which gave us that extra edge to secure the right to host the Council.
We can look forward to welcoming up to 2,000 delegates from more than 60 countries. The event is an important opportunity not only to highlight the success of the movement in Northern Ireland but also to learn from the experience of those in other countries.
We will have an opportunity to learn how credit unions from across the globe have been responding to the economic crash and its impact on their communities, their role in the recovery as well as the roll out new technology. In an era when information can be sent across the world with the click of a mouse credit unions must keep pace with developments. Electronic finances, online accounts and apps are what our members are used to and expect and we are determined to meet that challenge.
However whatever changes are to come we will remain committed to our core values. We will always be community based, our members always come first and our future – like our past has been – will be shaped by the belief that we are ‘People Helping People’.