Diary of a Bankrupt
17 February 2013
I had received court papers from the bank which sought to repossess my home at the end of 2012 and am accordingly in the Circuit Court in Bray February 2013. The county registrar takes my side and berates the bank’s solicitor. I walk out a happy woman but it is only a stay of execution. The bank is to speak with me or else she will strike the case. She says I am a human being.
17 March 2013
I return to court the following month but I am no longer a human being. I am a statistic – with a court order for repossession and an unsecured debt of some million plus euros. I walk out of the court and cry my eyes out in the car park. Statistics have feelings too.
I walk into David Hall’s debt advocacy body, the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO). He says he will represent me pro bono. We discuss my options. On the one hand I am an open and shut case. On the other hand, the new insolvency laws were proving not fit for purpose and sadly I was going to prove that unfitness. Luckily with the help of the IMHO this was not going to cost me any money. I am doing a lot of walking.
I have a meeting with the Stephen Curtis in the IMHO and fill in my paperwork. The insolvency service of Ireland now knows what I had for breakfast and what colour knickers I am wearing. At this rate, I’m not even going to afford knickers but there doesn’t appear to be an appropriate box to tick for going commando.
The new Insolvency Service is officially launched and there I am at the top of the queue. I knock and I knock but I cannot get in; I am officially too broke. This is a club for people with money and I don’t have any. The irony is that I met another man who applied using a regular, private PIP. He was charged €3,500 but the banks vetoed the proposal. So he was down €3,500, which he didn’t have and had to borrow, and still stuck in a vicious circle of creditors chasing him for money. He lost his family home in the process. He went bankrupt afterwards after this initial mauling in the system.
If I can digress into a general observation: The new insolvency laws have three main problems. The first is that the banks can veto any offer. The second is that an applicant has to hire a PIP and that PIP can charge market rates; such as the fee charged to my bankrupt friend, regardless of success. There is no parallel public service. The third is that it only caters for people with money; an oxymoron given it is a service for insolvent people. Clumsy law at best, swiftly moving to vicious and punitive on the vulnerable at its worst.
The new bankruptcy laws come into being. The term of servitude is reduced from 12 years to 3. The fee is reduced to €650 plus stamp duty, although it mysteriously goes up by another €100 when I finally file. Other restrictions are vague but daunting and include not being able to be a director of a company, not being able to run for the Dail and limited travel abroad.
January 7, 2014
I bring in my €650 in coins and file for bankruptcy. The fee is made up of €500 in coins and the rest in notes. I want to hand these coins directly to the Insolvency Service but I have to lodge it at the bank instead. It doesn’t feel the same. I walk back to the IMHO with my receipt.
January 11, 2014
The fee for bankruptcy goes up a further €100 and so when I return to sign affidavits I hand this money over; half my income for the week. Add into that car parking and diesel and it is proving to be a very expensive process, even with the pro bono work provided by IMHO.
I wait for my day in court. The Mondays come and go and I am still not bankrupt.
Monday February 17, 2014
This is my day. Finally I am on the list. I drive up to Dublin and I am not afraid. The team at IMHO – David Hall, Stephen Curtis and Keith Farry – have my back. I am genuinely calm. We walk over to court. I sit next to the man who lost his fee in the failed attempt at the Insolvency Service. He remarks on how intimidating the court feels with the bank of lawyers, barristers, clerks ranged up at the top. It is a confusing mess of ‘all rise for the judge’, all sit for the cases and all shuffle about as if at a country mass. No one is named, just initials, but there are sideways conversations, matters held over for mention, listings pushed this way and that. The Kafkaesque atmosphere is all the more strange since we are not criminals. Why are we here in a court of law with a judge and a bank of legal professionals? Once a person is adjudicated bankrupt the solicitor automatically comes off record and it is handled by the Insolvency Service. We just need a room with a table and two chairs.
The man, whose initials I don’t remember, is up first. He stands when his initials are called, then sits down again. Keith says he is there for the applicant. The judge looks through the papers, notes that he can advertise on the ISI webpages and says the next court appearance is March 31st. Then it is over.
It is my turn next. I don’t even get to stand. I had hoped I might be asked a few questions by the judge. I’d like to explain why I was here. I’d like to point out the bonehead banks had effectively tripled my debt when they refused consent to sell my home back in 2011, had crushed my business and left me without an income and had almost created a chilling statistic out of my life, or rather the near departure from it.
But I don’t even get to stand and then I am adjudicated bankrupt.
Tuesday February 18, 2014
I hit the first of my new world, bankrupt problems. I need to pay my broadband provider but I cannot transfer money using my online banking. I need to update my toll charge but I cannot add my Visa debit card. After an hour it finally dawns on me. My account is frozen. It will be released when I meet with the official assignee but that is not until March 31. Under the old laws, a bankrupt met with the official assignee the same day so everything was tackled within a working day. Now, due to the high volume of people needing this service, the meetings are pushed out. I cannot wait six weeks to unlock my account. I have a little over €400 in my account and I need that for my rent. I pester Keith and ask him to find out if this freeze can be thawed earlier.
Wednesday February 19, 2014
I hit the wall. I wake up with the most excruciating headache you could imagine. It is migrainic in its intensity. I get up and take painkillers. I return to bed. It is half term and there are no school runs. I cancel my early morning walk with my neighbour. I sleep until 10:30am but I am still groggy. I get a cup of coffee and return to bed. I am absolutely floored. I have no energy and my head feels as though I have gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. I spend the day in bed. I cannot get up. I set up my laptop and write another chapter in my autobiography. The theme of this chapter is laughter although I have to confess on being very low on chuckles. The only synchronising element is one of the stories involves a Tyson confusion – It was the day I lost my ears – and it is a very funny anecdote but you will have to read the memoirs one day to find out why.
Thursday February 20, 2014
I wake with huge energy. Actually I have so much energy I have come up with an idea for a futuristic film. It is going to be a hit – whenever I get time to pitch the idea to Hollywood producers. On my morning walk I am bouncing off the hills with energy. This is the new me and the new life.
I get post. It is a letter from the Insolvency Service. They ask me to fill in a personal data form (is there where I get to confess the lack of intimate garments due to extreme poverty?) but the form is missing. I check out the envelope several times in an imitation of Forrest Gump. Nothing flutters to the ground so I ring the number at the bottom of the letter. I start to explain my problem but I am told I need to talk to a bankruptcy official. They will call me back after lunch. I busy myself in the meantime.
After lunch, at least five minutes after lunch, they still have not called. I pick up the phone to ring them. Have I turned into Forrest Gump? I speak with a very nice woman. She tells me she will post out the forms; teething problems of the new system. Then I ask her about my bank account and when will they thaw it out. She is shocked. It is not meant to be frozen, just the funds remitted to the Insolvency Service. I now sit down and it is I who is shocked. ‘Take my funds?’ I echo. It turns out that all my money and all my assets now belong to the Insolvency Service; even the €400 in my bank account. ‘How will I pay my rent?’ I ask in shock. That is not really her problem. I am close to tears, snarkily telling her I shall have to get a tent and finish the call.
I sit in shock. I know that I have to metaphorically empty my pockets for the Insolvency Service but I did not think my €400 would be seized. I am very upset. Last month I had not been able to pay my rent from my bank account; I had to wait until I got my children’s allowance to pay the remainder. Now, I had lost my €400.
I ring the bank. I play phone tag with the customer relations officer. He is very nice but tells me my account is stopped. I tell him this should not be the case. He tells me that he is operating under bank guidelines from head office. I tell him that the horse’s mouth has categorically informed me that my account is not to be frozen. He tells me it is company directions. It is stalemate. I ask him how do we fix it. He says get the Insolvency Service to ask the bank to remit my money, sorry their money, and then give permission for me to continue to have a bank account.
I return to the woman. My parting comment had been about living in a tent, now I need her help. In fairness, the tent comment is not referred to. She says that while the law is very exact, she cannot influence how banks conduct their processes. I hand over the customer relations officer details. She promises to sort this out.
I fire off an email to poor Keith. He doesn’t get any tent references but I do let off some steam, in a polite manner but even I can hear the screaming behind the careful prose. I have to figure out how to pay my direct debits, not having actual bills I am not sure if I can pay in my post office. I don’t want services to be cut off. Even more importantly, I will have to ask my ex to change how he pays the maintenance. Ask any spouse in receipt of maintenance and the answer will be the same: don’t change any details for fear of dragging feet or worse.
I get a call from my case officer in the Insolvency Service. My money is gone. My account is gone. She suggests I open a new account and assures me there should be no difficulty. I thank her and hang up. Living in the country as I do, the nearest bank is twenty miles away. My post office where I receive my job finders allowance is ten miles in the opposite direction. I am going to be spending my time driving tomorrow, filling out forms, trying to pacify different suppliers and figuring out where I am going to find another €400 – which is also why I am writing this at 4am in the morning.
Friday February 21, 2014
‘straws are the currency of bankruptcy and despair. ‘
It is straws that break camels’ backs, not rods of iron, although they will do it too. But straws are the currency of bankruptcy and despair. I had withstood so many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but the straws almost ‘did me in’. I woke up today with a list prepared in the small hours of yesterday. I paid bills, I collected my job finders allowance, I bought stamps, and I visited my bank in Gorey. I must have travelled almost 60miles from village to village. The customer relations officer in my bank in Gorey opened a new account for me, transferring most of the direct debits to my new account. Sadly there was no money in my account so I transferred my weekly job finders allowance into the empty account.
I have survived my first week of bankruptcy.
A big thank you to the team at IMHO for hand holding, nose wiping, back thumping, nerve calming and always putting up with my oscillating energies. If going bankrupt was like getting married, at my hen party I’d be getting several tents. It’s always handy to have a tent.