As It Happens

A rebel bank in London is printing its own money and using it to forgive people's debts

Hoe Street Central Bank aims to erase $1.8M of debt by selling fake banknotes featuring community leaders.

Hoe Street Central Bank aims to erase $1.8M of debt by selling fake banknotes featuring community leaders

Dan Edelstyn, left, and Hilary Powell co-founded the Hoe Street Central Bank with the goal of eliminating $1.8 million Cdn worth of debt in their London neighbourhood. (Peter Searle/HSCB)

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The Hoe Street Central Bank in northeast London isn't really a bank at all.

Described by the Guardian as "part art installation, part stunt and part charitable endeavour," the HSCB aims to erase debt, not create it.

It's doing that by printing its own fake money, selling it for legal tender and using the profit to buy up and write off what it calls "predatory" debts in its neighbourhood of Waltham Forest.

"Everyone was feeling the pinch in one way or another," Dan Edelstyn, who opened the bank with his wife Hilary Powell, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Debt seems to be something that affects everyone."

The Hoe Street Central Bank is part art installation, part charitable endeavour. (Hoe Street Central Bank)

At the heart of the project are the four fake banknotes, which pay homage to:

"We were interested particularly in depicting people that we felt were fighting against the consequences of an unjust economic system," Edelstyn said.

"They were worth more to us than some abstract character from the pages of history or from the royal family."

The Hoe Street Central Bank is selling these fake British banknotes featuring real community leaders to raise money to eradicate people's debts, (Hoe Street Central Bank)

The banknotes are for sale online and at the Walthams Forest location. The goal is to sell enough to raise £50,000 ($90,000 Cdn).

Half of the proceeds will go back to the community organizations represented on the banknotes, Edelstyn said.

The other half will be used to buy up  £1 million ($1.8 million Cdn) worth of debt in the neighbourhood and abolish it.

Secondary debt 

Buying that debt at half the price is possible because bad loans are often sold to secondary debtors at a fraction of their face value.

Several anti-debt organizations in the U.S. operate on a similar strategy of buying secondary debt and writing it off.

In 2014, the group Strike Debt bought $3.8 million US worth of student loans.

Comedian John Oliver made headlines in 2016 when he bought $15 million US in medical debt belonging to 9,000 people.

A community member prints banknotes at the Hoe Street Central Bank in London. (Peter Searle/HSCB)

Edelstyn said HSCB has raised  £15,000 so far and aims to hit its goal by May.

"​It's been amazing. It's been non-stop. People have just been coming to the bank, supporting it, buying up the notes, support the initiative and generating awareness," he said. 

"The uptick has been phenomenal and I think it's because everyone realizes that things need to change in our economy and our society."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Mary Newman.