A successful Birmingham City Council campaign against loan sharks is to go nationwide.

The local authority's illegal money lending team has been awarded a £578,000 Government grant, enabling it to expand and set up operations in Peterborough, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Portsmouth, Southampton and Hastings.

The team already works in the West Midlands, Merseyside, Sheffield and West Yorkshire and will get £88,000 to enhance its work in these areas.

In addition to this the team will receive £188,000 to expand into Greater Manchester and £302,000 to set up operations.

It is estimated that the Birmingham team has helped wipe out more than £2 million of illegal debt owed by some of the poorest members of society since being established in 2004.

It has also seized guns and drugs and recovered more than £100,000 worth of counterfeit items.

More than 1,300 victims have been helped, 50 warrants executed and prison sentences totalling more than ten years for illegal money lending activities have been handed out.

Councillor Neil Eustace (Lib Dem, Stechford & Yardley North), chairman of the Public Protection Committee, said: "Birmingham City Council is leading the way in taking these criminals off the streets. Giving the team funding to help set up operations throughout the country is another vote of confidence

in the excellent work they do. "Birmingham is truly a national centre of excellence on this issue."

Achievements this year include the prosecution of Lee Reece Walker in April who has been imprisoned for more than six years after assaulting a client who couldn't pay his debt, and private hire boss Martin Smith, ordered earlier this month to pay £75,000 by the end of the year or face jail.

Previous prosecutions include Redditch money lender Kim Cornfield, jailed for two years after using intimidation to enforce loans which carried interest rates of up to 15,000 per cent.

Anyone with concerns about illegal money lenders can contact the Illegal Money Lending Team on 0121 693 1122.