The Dying Language of the Loan Shark.. ?

Last weekend was the International Day for the Remembrance of Lost Species, a ritual-based, creative initiative which encourages people to hold in their hearts and minds a species which no longer walks, swims,flies or breathes on this planet. It’s a beautiful process and also rather devastating reminder of loss on such a mass scale. The extinct passenger pigeon was put into Volume II of The Book of Debts. On a lateral note,  I have been thinking of another species whose existence I would definitely be happy to see the back of: the loan shark, aka paylenders and other kinds of semi-illegal vulture-like outfits who are profiting from those most vulnerable and desperate in what are increasingly constrained times financially.

Last week, after constant pressure – including from the Church of England within the Lords – the government was at last been forced to cap the cost of payday loans. That took a long time and it doesn’t go far enough. Let’s hope it’s the start of a deep –rooted reform of that rotten and so far unregulated industry. However it does not solve the problem of what people do who have no credit rating or access to support or community and do not have money to feed or clothe their children. We were on the edge of this up to a year ago and it was only responsive members of our community of friends who made the difference. Poverty is a real issue and this has been highlighted today in the news, via Jack Munroes petition and is becoming more and more visible as each day passes, with foodbanks at an absolute and rapidly rising high.  I will be focusing on what alternatives and the new story around this might look like, but it’s hard for anyone to consider changing anything when their belly is empty and they can’t heat their house. When I was on the streets of Portslade in May, I went into a couple of pawnbrokers (sorry ‘Buy and Sell shop’s as they are now called..). It became clear that they had a steady stream of customers who brought in , often the smallest of items, just to raise the money to get to work or buy groceries. How can this be?!

So – finally! I find the right point in time to publish the following, which I have kept on my computer for three years and are a barometer of my recovery from my debt traumas of the past. What I am about to share are the email subject lines of communications sent me in the Winter of 2010 by a company called FLM Loans (it would be too long to share the entire emails) . They were one of the ‘small’ loans company with whom my brother took out – in this case a £3000 loan – for which I was guarantor, and therefore legally responsible for payback if he defaulted – I own this. I should never have signed, but I felt I owed him for past help, and so the cycle continued. And this company were only ones who pursued me to court, ignoring my debt management plan arrangements , which all other creditors accepted.

What fascinates me about this correspondence is that it is like a mini-opera, a tragi-comic series of communications for a loan which appeared on paper to be a loan at around 45% per cent and turned out to be, in fact, on closer inspection, for around 4000%. That fact and my lack of experience in discerning the true nature of the agreement was a gutting lesson in itself.

So, those who are involved with payday lenders or unhandleable loans of any kind will relate to this and possibly to the type of language being used.

The fact that I can put this into the public domain without reliving it in my body as a searing stomach-ache is a triumph over the past.Things have changed – for us. I remember how much power I gave these people to make me feel like a total loser at the time, despite this being the smallest of the loans on our credit file. Part of the pathology of the debtor that is fuelled by guilt and shame, on which such companies play. It was the straw that broke our back at the time, what made me give up trying to hold onto our house, our credibility, and our concept of a financial future. The psychological web they drew me into and the system they are part of is not something I think should be legal in any way shape or form. And I didn’t know any better than to follow the trail into the fire.

Winter 2010

 This correspondence came despite my initial responses to regular phone calls, often happening very late into the evening and intimidating in tone (‘We’ re going to take your house away, Alinah..’).It always started with me explaining calmly (as advised by Stepchange) that I was on a debt management plan and could honestly not afford an unfairly high single payment to them. Nothing I said changed their script and their tone became more aggressive – until I then got to know my rights (i.e that I could inform them by email that I did not want to be called on my mobile or landline but could only be contacted in writing). They then reverted to the following daily emails.

From ‘Ben’, ‘Tom’ or ‘James’ at FLM (first names to make me feel like they were somehow a bit friendlier (?!).

 

29/10/10: Thought you might like to know…

30/10/10: Me Again…

31/10/10: Let’s get this sorted together

1/11/10: Do you remember when you signed up as guarantor?

2/11/10: Can you give a helping hand?

3/11/10: Alinah, have you changed your number?

4/11/10: Alinah, there’s an easier way

5/11/10: Alinah, I’ve had a look

7/11/10: No luck yet

10/11/10: Alinah, there’s still time

12/11/10: Alinah look..

13/11/10: Alinah prove me wrong

14/11/10: Simon still needs you

15/11/10: Did you get my letter?

16/11/10: More than ever

17/11/10: Alinah I need to know

19/11/10: I don’t want to get to that stage

22/11/10: It’s never too late

23/11/10: I want to share something

25/11/10: Did you get my letter?

26/11/10: My manager’s advice (bailiffs, court action)

27/11/10: There’s not much I can do

29/11/10: Before it’s too late

1/12/2010: Should be your highest Priority

3/12/10: First step towards

(Default on account issued)

5/12/10: Before midnight tomorrow

9/12/10: One of two ways

11/12/10: Interested in the facts

13/12/10: Re: Breach of contract

15/12/10: Alinah look at the figures

17/12/10: Look at your case

19/12/10: A real option

21/12/10: County Court Judgment

23/12/10: Enforcing a County Court Judgment

16/1/2011: Do you want this to happen to you and Simon?

20/1/11:  Impact of an’ Attachment of Earnings’ on you, Alinah

24/1/1: Resigned to the fact?

28/1/11: Adjust to this kind of living.

5/2/11: Extreme measures we’ve had to take.

17/2/11: Pending court

21/2/11: Running out of time….

I was happy see that little progress on this via C of E pressure on George Osborne, let’s see how that unfolds. This is, after all, a moral and social well – being issue and NOT purely an economic one. Usury was, after all, illegal for centuries. (I will write more on that later).

However, dealing with debt is way more than just an issue of legislation, it is a collective mindset and a social, moral and philosophical question and it is that which I will begin to talk about more over this winter.

Student debt sell-off: the primark-isation of education…

I read with a combination of outrage and excitement the news that  £900m of ‘ageing’ student debts have been sold on to a global private debt company. They were sold for £160m, what a bargain – Primark prices!. Phrases like ‘the private sector is well placed to maximize returns from a book  (a book??) that has deteriorating value’ and this represents ‘good value for money’ (for who? not for the students obviously) made me my heart sink. My partner’s film school student debt will be one of those included in this ‘book’.

Having been subject to the manipulation of private debt companies in the past, I know the dark pressure they are capable of exerting on people and the impact this can have on one’s mental health, not to mention financial well-being.And we are talking about educational debts here, for a public service! not consumer debt.

I will give a personal example of this in my very next post, but let me explain why I used the word excitement. If there is a sector of society who are capable of drawing attention to and engaging in a movement of massive debt resistance, of arming themselves with the information need to question the morally reprehensible and still unregulated behaviour’s of the private debt sector, it is the student body. And this is has started, with the demonstrations last week .

I hope there is a connect between this sell-off –which happened today – and the attention recently and so powerfully drawn by the US-based Rolling Jubilee campaign via Strike Debt to the secondary debt market, which technically this ‘book’ will become part of. From what I understand, there is a legal case (in the US but not sure how it works here) for questioning the validity of the contract between the debtor and a company which has bought a debt like this, if the new contract is not acknowledged by the debtor as valid or the new creditor cannot supply the original version of the contract. I do not know the precise details but this must surely be worth looking into! Since student debt – and medical debt – has been a massive issue for a long time in the US, Occupy have devised ways to provide information for those who want to resist unjust debts, a lot of this is in the Debt Resistor’s Manual. I’m not endorsing everything in this manual, and some of it only applies to those in the US, but I know from experience that the more information you have as a debtor, the more power you have to draw a line between yourself and unacceptable but still legal behaviours in use within the debt collecting sector. Some debts we really want to pay –  but some are blatantly unjust, particularly those sold on which then acquire the machinery of the manipulation and maximisation of ‘assets’ at the expense of the financial survival and mental well-being of the debtor -who is, after all, a human being. And those which are converted from public to private debt are ethically questionable to say the least – no student would have willingly entered into a borrowing agreement with a private company in the first place – although I have to say that my partner was sold a film school ‘student loan’ by Lloyds years back, which turned out to be a high interest bank loan , with PPI. He got the PPI cancelled and overturned by the ombudsman before this came to the headlines for millions of others, but was still liable to pay a front-loaded bank loan totalling more than his income every month – which tipped us over the edge initially -as opposed to the affordable monthly amount that comes off of wages once you start earning. So there have been some questionable banking practices already in relation to student borrowing and it dismays me to see how overt this move is in that direction.

The Book of Debts, Vol IV

During my recent stint in Birmingham Library with The Book of Debts Volume IV (which will be the next to meet a fiery end, on March 8th 2014, details to follow), I had conversations with quite a number of students about this and they put their debts in The Book. The total in student so far comes to £111,000. One of the students, who put in £36,000, also put this in the book:

That is the price tag of my degree, the fees only. I feel reckless about it at the moment, just enjoying my degree, and on top of that I want to do a PHD – at 6k a year, plus maintenance I am looking at owing up to the early 100k and that lasts 25 – 30 years. Does that mean I will die in debt! I heard that if you move abroad and become a citizen of another country, after three years your Uni debt in this country will be written off..?

I would not be without my education though, so…what to do!’

Taking this idea to its extreme, a mass exodus of educated young people from the UK is not what the government wants, but it cannot see beyond the delectable prospect of shaving hundreds of millions off its accounts book. And this is only step 1. The issue of how this  sell-off will impact students lives in other ways are not even given a mention in its comments this last week. Perhaps because it isn’t considered by them to be an issue?  But it is aligned with a lot of their other short term – goal oriented thinking on education generally so I do not know why I am surprised…

I look forward to seeing how this unfolds, I think there may be creative solutions to transforming this , based on what I have seen happening in the US.

All debts contributed so far –many of which are non-financial- can be browsed here. Volume IV is open for new contributions until March 7th 2014 before a finale event of talks, recitals and a ceremonial burning in the Centre of the City, host venue and details of related events  tbc very soon!

As I posted this, I noticed that students are still in occupation at Birmingham University in protest at what has been happening.

Duckie,London

Burning the Books came to the legendary Duckie performance night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Saturday November 9th for a one -nighter, alongside Candoco dance company and hot on the heels of Bonfire Night. We had a very warm reception, introduced by the coincidentally red-and-black-attired SonOfATutu, with a fast influx of entries into the Book of Debts after an initial on-stage provocation. We then recited all of the 45 moving and powerful stories, which burnt  beautifully out in the back yard despite the drizzle, followed by a disco wake! Scroll down for a listing of what was added that night to The Book.

Due to the intimate nature of the venue  and as an experiment in crowd-sourced documentation, we decided not to film the performances, and so the documentation  of The Book of Debts, Vol IV : Duckie, London is archived in written form, here below. Be prepared to be moved.

  1. A debt of life and love: owed – all the lives and love lost as a result of homophobic prejudice; bombings, imprisonment, murder and segregation, and that still continue on this planet right now. Examples – Russia, Uganda, Saudi Arabia to mention but a few..
  2. A pair of gold shoes- which once belonged to my late mother – the only ones that also suited me that I could wear out. recently I found them in my bedroom cupboard, nibbled to pieces by a hamster called Ron Weasley, who we had been looking after and who went missing. Lost, lost – all those nights out dancing in her shoes  – and remembering her glamour and love.
  3. I owe my partner more love, patience and acceptance. My expectations are often too high and so impossible to fulfill. And so I fail him on my curriculum of love and judgement  and a regular basis. And then I feel our disconnection, the pain – and we have to start all over again. One day this may not be an option.I want to symbolically burn  all my impulsive judgements and impossible expectations of him – this beautiful, committed man, who is – like me – only human.
  4.  Respect owed for the lives and loves of young gay people globally. To those too afraid to be out, as yet, abused – whose mental health has been affected through lack of support, understanding and acceptance.
  5. Reparations for soul murder – to the victims of child sex abuse, who have had their souls destroyed. All the unseen, unheard – whose distress has never been met, and whose have only been labelled by the mental health system as a disorder and disruption to the norm.
  6. Forgiveness of my self – for being so hard on myself for so many years, for self-neglect. Putting others – everyone – before me, and looking after so well, whilst not listening, feeling, caring or supporting myself. I truly apologise to my precious self, I endeavour to honour, love and support deeply, and I know this will affect every other relationship in my life. Apologies for this delusion, for the suffering I have created for those closest to me.
  7. £100,000 in consumer, mortgage, student and other debt.
  8. I want to symbolically contribute the UK National Deficit : £1,377 billion ! Comment: but leave a penny for good luck.Julian.
  9. In 1999, the other DJ – the black-haired one, at this club – bought me a film poster – The Switchblade Sisters. It was brilliant! He showed me it on my birthday and said ; ‘I’ll get it framed for you!” I’m still waiting for it.14 years later ! He owes me my present.
  10. The Soho homophobic bombings – their lives.
  11. A huge apology owed to me by my uncle for stealing my soul.
  12. T-shirt owed to my sister that I borrowed 10 years ago and never gave back.
  13.  I owe an emotional debt to the lovers who lost, and were kind – when they could have been nasty.
  14. I lost my glove in 5 minutes. Please burn the book.(?)
  15. Love and tenderness owed to my grandmother – someone who cared deeply and kept me from harm for many years.
  16. We owe a debt to each other as human beings to respect, love and care for one another – regardless of social, cultural or geographical boundaries.
  17. Our debt is for the birthday card we never brought for Jolly-Wally-Olly. So we take this opportunity to say we love him. Nia and Peter.
  18. To the BBC, for all the years of TV  licensing I have avoided paying.
  19. I am in debt to my mother, for putting up with way too much shit from me over the years.
  20. Debt owed to all disabled people for the lack of understanding, acceptance and for amount of places that are so inaccessible, eg. tube stations, nightclubs, venues etc.
  21. To the few flatmates who lived with me, and then had mental health problems – that I didn’t care about.
  22. I owe my boyfriend more time together.
  23. The debt of £150 owed to a hospital in Zanzibar, where I was looked after when I had malaria.
  24. I owe myself a debt of care, for not living authentically, for living in fear. It’s never too late to start afresh.
  25. I owe myself freedom to be myself, unapologetically, and the freedom to savour that – and all the fruits it bears ..
  26. My debt is to all of you – those who gave me unconditional love – and to whom I did not give back as I should . To Itsig (sic), who gives me all he has got, from whom I keep back and don’t give all I’ve got. To Tal – who loves me so, no questions asked – and I fail to love him back in the same way. All my friends and loved ones, who find it so easy to open up – and I keep myself from truly loving as one should; you have proven your love over and over again, and you deserve it as well. My debt is all the love I have yet to give you, and you all pray for and rightfully deserve.
  27. A debt owed to me by my mother and father for a childhood of non-recognition, neglect and abuse.
  28. A debt owed to my mother and father of recognition – that they are flawed human beings like all of us – with stories of their own.
  29. I know I haven’t treated you well these last three years, but things are getting better. 2014 is the year we are definitely going to make the changes to make you happy, yeah.
  30. In german – indecipherable (apologies to the contributor – it was read out as best I could at the event)
  31. To my family, for choosing to live abroad, and for being so far and not always there, I love you.
  32. I owe my family £500, for travelling in America. I have every intention of paying it back, You can’t imagine how much it meant to me – all I was able to see and experience, I learned so much more about the world and myself. I will pay them back  – I love them!
  33. 42p for a marathon bar I stole 44 years ago..
  34. Talla owes me £20 for his lunch today.
  35. Almost 32 years ago, an 18 year old woman left me in an orphanage. I am now living happily in London, and I owe her this information. She did the right choice and she has to know it -wherever she is – Rumania or anywhere else.
  36. I owe Marcie many things – mostly socks and pants – but mostly I owe her my time. Note to self: must stop working so hard and dance in my pants – or Marcie’s – to old Christina Aguielera  songs. And laugh at you when watching Black Beauty makes you super-emotional.
  37. I owe Fiona my life because it’s so much infinitely better with her in it. Thanks darling.
  38. I owe to those who are giving me shelter and warmth and love at this moment – when my world has fallen apart; a home, a roof, food. To know these people are there, who have given me unconditional regard, is the biggest gift – thank you.
  39. I owed my friend Adriana an apology – and I would do it if she let me – but hey…
  40. A thank you to Paul, I’m sorry, it was a nervous breakdown.Only medication worked..
  41. £2,000 owed to my parents..
  42. 18 rolls of toliet paper, 3 years of dinner – sorry Bruce I cannot cook..
  43. £5 owed to Simon Casson for the secret code.
  44. Gratitude to Adrienne for being an example of a true human being. Ultimately, all there is, is love. The rest is just story.
  45. When I was kid, I killed a frog for fun , to impress my friends. I still feel huge shame over this.