Dealing with the debt collector

It’s because it’s personal it’s getting under my skin.  I’ve had letters from a debt collector before, wrongly address to our home, but this is our debt and they obviously want their money back.

Background.  I have many postings on the dreaded Legal Aid applications.  It was a nightmare completing the forms during a nightmare time.  We were honest and declared everything we could think of, we were naive I now discover.  Eventually Legal Aid was granted a matter of months before Mike’s court appearance and we were jointly assessed as having the ability to pay nearly £10,000.00 for the privilege of a barrister recommending he plead guilty to everything.  Oh, that came as a shock.  Mike was in a mental position to disagree with just one charge, which was dropped, the rest he confessed to, even though the amount was inaccurate and grossly inflated.  The advice was that no jury would have sympathy given his significant salary.  We had thought a jury might question why he was the only person in the whole company who did not receive bonus payments for the last 8 years of employment.  Anyway, it was over and done with.

Before Mike even went to prison, before he had even been sentenced, the Legal Services Commission had sold our debt to Rossendales, a debt collection agency – you can read about them on the web, they have many commentators.  We started to receive letters demanding payment, although we had pointed out our bank accounts were still frozen and we had no means to pay.  They chased until Mike was sentenced, then there was a lull for 13 months.

Now he’s been out for two months and obviously loaded – they are hungry for their money.  This is what happens, this is the reality of crime.  Mike repaid every penny of what he was accused of stealing, well, we do not know the actual figures he repaid because we were not privy to the amounts the investments had accumulated, but the pots of money were all returned.  He served a prison sentence, he is currently “out on licence” meaning he is subject to a curfew until February 2013.  He has a criminal record and no job.  I earn above – just – minimum wage, so we have no help from the state (rest easy there) I provide the food and shelter.  He has no bank account and no money to put into one anyway. He is trying to find work and is hopeful his situation will change in the New Year.

And now Rossendales have taken to calling every morning, in the latest call advising they would phone every day until the debt is paid.  How helpful.  Rest easy, we have now written advising them to cease and desist.  We wish to enter into a payment plan, but this needs their agreement.  But what a situation to be in.  For us, we are educated, we can research and discover that we should not be bullied and as a registered collections agency they have a code of conduct to comply with.  We wish to pay our debt, but threats of a legal charge being put on my home really doesn’t help the matter.  What villains they are but more depressing is the fact that the Legal Services Commission can sell such a debt on.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Here’s something of interest to those who know me:

A little bit of background for you?

Last year, wanting to leave one job for more security, I applied to work for the Kent County Agricultural Society. I couldn’t believe the advert, the position was working as PA to the Executive Manager of the Showground, his remit was to organise and put on the longstanding, annual Kent County Show.  I applied and waited with baited breath to see if I got selected for interview.  I did have other things on my mind – Mike had just embarked on the judicial process which would, we were 99.9% sure of, end in his imprisonment.  Our days were spent working, both of us had jobs and evenings were taken up with form filling, trying to persuade the Legal Aid people we did not have £10,000 to contribute towards Mike’s legal costs. And of course, in discussion as to how I would cope with Mike being away.

And then I got an interview and Mike had his first Magistrate Court appearance.  And then I got the job and the day before starting, we were in London to attend Mike’s hearing at the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the same week, on my second day at work in my new job, Mike attended his Plea and Case Management hearing at the County Court.

Last year, the Kent Show made a loss and this was down mostly to the rain, which lashed the marquees.   After the Show, I plunged into my work dealing with all the complaints from visitors, I loved it.  It absorbed my day and took me away from issues at home.

A month later, I took a day off to be with Mike as he was sentenced to three years in prison and then I returned to work as if nothing had happened.  And two weeks later, with the burden of all that was going on gnawing away at me, I took the foolish decision to tell Roger Moore what had been happening and where my husband was.  He took the news extremely well, said that it had nothing to do with me, I’d not been accused of anything, but, and here’s the big but, he felt he should tell the Board of the Kent County Agricultural Society what had been going on.

After that there was a flurry closed door meetings and naively, I thought nothing of this.  Roger went on holiday, and being his PA, I had access to his emails.  I was stunned as emails from a certain member of the board to Roger began asking about details of my husband’s crime and whether or not I should have disclosed to the Board AT INTERVIEW that my husband had been arrested.  The emails intimated that I might claim unfair dismissal if the Board chose to take action against me.  I was aghast.  I printed off the email and showed it to a member of staff there – wrong decision number two.  She actually looked fearful and told me I shouldn’t have printed off the email, but I couldn’t understand what she was talking about.  I put the email in my handbag ready to show to Mike at our next visit, I didn’t know what to do.

The image of two members of the Board marching in and telling me I needed to accompany them upstairs to a meeting and that I was entitled to bring another member of staff with me is etched into my memory.  Indeed, remembering the face of the female member of the board actually makes my stomach churn to this day.  I was suspended on the grounds of having committed a gross misconduct because I had printed and removed from the premises, a confidential email that was the property of the Board of the Kent County Agricultural Society.  Even though that email referred directly to me and my husband and my continuing employ at the Society.

We went through the disciplinary hearings, I was accompanied throughout by an extremely kind and expert friend who, like me, believed that it simply was not possible for them to dismiss me on such spurious grounds.  But we were both wrong.  In the end, seeing the writing on the wall, I paid my money and consulted a solicitor.  She confirmed that I had done wrong, and on that fact combined with my mere two months of employment, I didn’t have a leg to stand on.  The only benefit of my hard earned £80.00 bill was that she wrote to the Society and asked if I could resign rather than be dismissed, something they graciously allowed me to do.  I had only ever been sacked once in my career and that was my first ever job.  I did not want this blemish to go down on my cv.

So Roger, you must know how it feels now.  Sickening.  I was lucky, as you may have realised, I am an extremely dedicated worker.  I was rocked, took a week to recover, picked myself up and applied to Sainsbury’s, thinking they might be my only route to earn money that I desperately needed now that I was fending for myself.  I nearly took the job offered to me, but when I actually sat down and worked out how much I would be paid, I realised I couldn’t afford to pay the bills.  Thankfully a job came up at a temporary agency, and the rest is history.  Impressed by my work I was offered full time employment and am happily beavering away to this day.

In my opinion, the Board of the Kent County Agricultural Society are demonstrating extremely short sightedness.  They have stated that the role of Executive Manager, and that of his secretary too I’d expect, is being axed to save money.  But the Show limps on year after year and without an Executive Manager I’d hazard a guess it’s limping into the graveyard.

Facts and figures omitted, feelings not.

I feel shitty.  I spent 10mins this morning sitting on the stairs sobbing my heart out.  Not only do I have a husband in prison, but now I’ve been sacked.  I’ll not go into the sacking in any detail because I wish to appeal what I feel is a grossly unfair decision.

What else is making me tear my hair out – Legal Aid.  Good old Legal Aid.  I have been advised, by Legal Services Commission that now that my husband has been sentenced, they will no longer consider appealing any decision about the amount he has to contribute.  They seem to be sticking to the £8,000.00 figure and I have nothing to tell me how they have come to this amount.  Would you pay £8,000.00 without any details on how this figure originated?  Take you car to the garage, and they say, through clenched teeth “that’ll be £1,980.00”.  What would you do – write out a cheque there and then saying “thank you my good man, I’m sure you’ll do an excellent and worthwhile job.”  Like billy bonkers you would, you’d say “How much!!!!  What are you going to do for that amount”.  Ah ha, a breakdown of costs is it that you are requiring.

Well, not with legal aid.  What happens is that you tell them all you details, how much money you (don’t) have and your bills you have to pay, then they stick their finger in the air and arrive at an arbitrary figure.  Or so it seems.

And another thing.  What about the fact that I’m supposed to be paying this seeing as THE FREEZING ORDER IS STILL IN PLACE.  Yep, maybe this is just what I needed, a bit of vitriol.  Still don’t have access to the now negative balanced bank account, Barclays still have not sorted out with “other side’s” lawyers on the sum of £2,500 owing.  And I’ve just received notification of the bill racking up with husband’s ex-Institute……..

For the record, I am as depressed as I was this time last year.  Not as depressed as I was in October 2010 when I did want to end my life, but well back on the way.  I just hope that there is a light, just a little flicker, at the end of this incredibly long, black, dark, stinking tunnel.

Want to hear something funny?

Apparently, if I had a wealthy benefactor (oh where have I heard this statement before), there would be a possibility of me “suing” the solicitor that was supposed to be representing me at an earlier meeting where I lost my home.  Or, and here’s the killer question….. I could apply for legal aid (that was the sound of my sides splitting).

So, everything was taken from me – and innocent victim in all this mess – and to get something back I have to have money.  Which was taken from me.  Interesting position to be in, and I’ll just go back to my sewing which gives me more pleasure and is more meaningful than the legal system.

Just Say “NO”

We are still engaged in a battle with Legal Aid.  The collections people turned out to be very nice and understanding when husband called to say he could not pay the money by the end of the month, let alone the next day as was required.  It still has not gotten through to the Legal Aid team that our joint account continues to be “frozen” so it is me that will have to pay any money.  And Legal Aid is means tested, I didn’t realise that.  We’ve been assessed as having access to far more money than we do.  Hardship form has been returned with more copies of the same information that they originally received (and lost) and the first court appearance is looming.  Still no-one will look through the papers pertaining to the case.  Husband is adamant that he will represent himself rather than take another penny from me.  Very admirable, but if by having legal representation he ends up with a shorter sentence, I’d rather be penniless now than lonely in the future.

It’s always interesting being on the other side of a story and this one seems to be continually in the news – Legal Aid I mean, not ours.  Never having been a Tory supporter, I find it strange siding with Ken Clarke and his ideas on shorter sentencing.  Surely this is the way to save money, won’t more people end up serving sentences if they go to court without representation?  Isn’t it better not to lock up those who are blatantly no threat to society (yes, I know, I would say that wouldn’t I).  It is so, so easy to commit “white collar” crime and yet the devastating effects go much deeper and wider.  Please, take it from me, just do not be tempted, money is not everything in this world, just look around you and appreciate what you HAVE and not what you haven’t got.

Elation turns to depression

So, I got home last night to a letter from a “collections” agency.  Letter dated 31 May advising husband that he can pay in instalments the nearly £10,000 contribution to his legal aid.

Sorry, run that by me again – he didn’t even know legal aid had been granted.  It would seem this is how the British legal system now works.   Let me pull the scales from your eyes if you are, like I WAS, an regular, middle class, tax paying, garden centre visiting, Sunday Times reading, decent coffee-loving, organic food eating, fair trade purchasing, comfy clothes wearing, “what’s a pedicure” thinking, Radio 4 listening, let’s go for a walk type woman.  You are Guilty until proved innocent and should you cross the line you will be hammered into the ground until it is simply not possible for you to return to anything that you would class as a life worth living.

I’m going to paint a scenario here – and it could be our case or someone else’s.  A person steals money from his employer.  He gets found out.  He offers to pay the money back.  They appoint top lawyers to deal with the situation.  The man’s family knows nothing of what has been going on but in order to pay back the money the family home has to be sold.  The wife says “hang on, surely 50% of this home is mine?”.  Error, only if you get a divorce can you keep your 50%.   The couple think ok, we should pay the money back, we can move somewhere smaller with an amount of money being granted to the wife.   Strangely though the amount taken has now increased – “that’s not fair” think the couple.  Wrong – you stole so now we are going to steal from you.  The couple think about getting a lawyer but of course, with everything having been handed over the the ex-employer, there’s nothing to pay a lawyer with, so the couple have to agree to everything.  We can rebuild our lives says the husband.  After being arrested, he suddenly thinks, hang on, I’ve no bank account, I’ve understandably got to make a contribution to my legal costs, but if I get sent to prison, my wife will end up paying these fees and on her salary she’ll have no money to buy food or pay the gas bill.  On top of that, when I get out of prison, I’ll have a criminal record so I can kiss goodbye to trying to get a job because society is not too keen on ex-offenders, even those who have paid their dues to society and now want a fresh start.

Our next step is for him to complete a “hardship” form in the hope that the contribution can be reduced.  Either that or can we divorce in order for me to protect my assets?  Never.

I’m not going to say “can you believe it” but…..

Still no Legal Aid.  Actually, a correction, LA was denied for the Magistrate’s Court so husband had to attend alone.  Not a problem, he was in and out in seconds and a date has been set for July for him to attend the Crown Court.  But because no LA, his solicitor will not do any preparatory work on his case.  What fun.  His papers now go back to LA HQ.

What can I say except that I thought the pills I am taking were supposed to make me feel relaxed about the whole affair, rather than making me look as if I have the troubles of the world on my shoulders.   It’s all I think about.  I just feel alone in this situation and I’m only involved by dint of loving the accused.