Some allege we, at GAIN Credit, are the biggest villains in the UK. We have, in Lending Stream, one of the biggest high-cost lending books in the country. At least once a month someone, maybe a politician, maybe a charity spokesperson, calls us ‘loan sharks’ and demands our immediate banishment from the lending ecosystem.

I don’t accept that portrayal. Instead, I believe our existence is not only justified but also crucial in providing accessible financial solutions.

June saw some welcome research. Fair4All Finance and We Fight Fraud highlighted how ‘illegal lenders are flourishing in the credit vacuum left by the departure of high cost yet regulated lenders’ and that ‘The unintended consequence is that millions of people who can well afford to repay a fair loan are left with fewer safe options.’ Further research from IPSOS suggested over three million people in Great Britain may have borrowed from an illegal moneylender in the last three years. Together, this research highlights the magnitude of illegal lending and throws light on the real ‘loan sharks’ lurking in the financial depths.

It is time for politicians, commentators, NGOs, and industry to make a decision. Should a substantial demographic be denied access to credit, even when they can afford it? This isn’t about people spiraling into debt or living beyond their means, but rather about offering solutions to ordinary individuals faced with unanticipated expense. Are we to exclude individuals for lacking a credit history, for past difficulties or for borrowing more frequently than others deem acceptable? The House of Lords obviously think financial inclusion is important, maybe they are right.

If we truly care about empowering individuals and enhancing their financial stability, credit must be accessible to as many as possible. Credit unions and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have a role to play, but so do regulated commercial offerings. If we foster an environment hostile to regulated lenders, then the doors are thrown wide open for illegal lending – the true loan sharks – that thrive on intimidation, a lack of consumer protection and no interest rate caps.

It’s time for critics to replace blanket condemnation with productive dialogue. Together we can craft lending models that are fair, affordable, and inclusive. To do that, we need to be offered a seat at the table.

I am proud of what we do as a firm – we help people that are often overlooked by others. I believe as a sector we can also be proud. We may never get classed as heroes but maybe, just maybe, we might be invited to form part of the solution.