A bank with a difference is mounting a campaign to steer people away from becoming hampered with debt at Christmas.

The Oxford Credit Union handed over a hamper to its 400th member, while urging people to avoid losing money on expensive debt or savings schemes.

Rosalba Edwards, of the Oxford Credit Union, a co-operative run for the benefit of its members, said: "Last year, lots of people lost money when the gift and hamper business Farepak went into administration.

"We want to avoid similar disasters happening again. People can start saving with us now."

It costs £1 to open an account and qualify for a loan. With just £5 a week, you could save £205 for Christmas, she said.

Its 400th member, Sylvia Mbau, from Grandpont, received a Fairtrade hamper, courtesy of Co-op Futures.

The union lends at interest rates no higher than 12.7 per cent, while most credit cards charge 19-20 per cent.

Manager Rosalba Edwards said: "We don't encourage credit cards, because that is how people build up debt.

"If you only make the mimimum payment, you don't have a period where it is going to be repaid. All our loans are for a fixed period."

Oxford City Council, St Peter's College and Wadham College support the union by giving their employees the option of putting money into saving accounts from the payroll.

It aims to help vulnerable borrowers avoid loan sharks and other unsuitable debts.

The credit union, at Cowley Community Centre, is open on Mondays and Fridays from 10am-4pm, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-1pm. For details, visit www.oxfordcreditunion.co.uk or call 01865 777757.