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.
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.