It was only a matter of time before the TV cameras were trained once again on the collections industry, given the growth in personal debt.
Last July we wrote in the blog about a BBC documentary recording the difficulties landlords have when tenants stop paying their rent or refuse to leave at the end of a lease.
Now it’s the turn of Channel 5 with a documentary series called Can’t pay? We’ll take it away! Which is described as a ‘unique insight into cash-strapped Britain’.
The first episode looked at three main case stories: the repossession of a car used as collateral for a loan from a no-credit check lender; an ex-squaddie losing his home of 19 years after falling into debt to HM Revenue & Customs and being made bankrupt; and the high court ordered eviction of a family who had ignored a county court order to leave a rented property after the lease ended.
The presence of cameras can change the dynamics of any situation and, arguably, officials can have been briefed on how to behave. But I thought the repossession team reacted coolly when faced with threats that resulted in criminal damage to the car they had arrived to collect. The sheriffs from High Court Solutions, Paul Bohill and Steve Pinner, showed very great concern to treat the ex-serviceman and the tenant with respect and some discretion given the strict terms of the court orders.
The first case showed that taking out a no-status loan at a rate of interest which can be in the region of 400% with your car as collateral is not to be recommended. It was easier to feel more sympathy with the story, touched on briefly, of a young driver peaceably returning his car to the finance company because the cost of insurance made the purchase unsustainable.
It was ‘not a good feeling’ for Bohill and Pinner to be evicting the ex-serviceman and his wife with two hours’ notice. But the process by which they lost their home, over £30,000 of debt swollen to some £100,000 by fees and costs, had taken more than three years from a bankruptcy order. While they owned 30% of the property outright, the remaining 70% was paid for by rent to a housing association.
Now a taxi driver, the former Royal Signalsman had maxed out on credit that he could not sustain in the effort to keep a roof over their heads. With their dog staying with friends, they were rehoused in one room emergency accommodation.
The Money Advice Service clearly despairs at how few people running into debt problems seek the help that is freely available. And the Official Receiver’s representative overseeing the eviction noted how many people made bankrupt ‘just don’t respond to communications from the trustee or liquidator’.
It was troubling to see Bohill and Pinner don protective vests when they arrived for the eviction of a tenant. But they have taken additional precautions since the shooting of a housing official and bailiff in Brixton for which a man was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
There are, it seems, 488 landlord eviction requests every day. The vests were not necessary in this case.
The expensive route of obtaining a high court order had been taken by the landlord, who happened to live next door, 16 months after the lease had expired, with £736 owing in unpaid rent and promises to find alternative accommodation not fulfilled. With young children involved, this would be another unhappy case for the local authority to deal with, applying the sticking plaster of emergency housing.
At SJ Collections, our watchword is to show respect in all our dealings on behalf of clients.
The series continues on Channel 5 at 9pm on a Monday.