Monday, 30 May 2011

I'm still standing

Recently someone I have never met gave a critique on my writing. On reading this blog she remarked I must be very strong.  Never having thought of myself in these terms, it inspired me to search for a word which described the perception I have of myself. The word resilient was the only one which came to mind.
The Japanese describe resilience as someone “who falls seven times and gets up eight” and without a doubt this resembles the daily routine I have endured for the last two and a half years.  I cannot begin to count the number of times I have been knocked down during this period nor can I recall what mechanism I have employed to get to my feet but thankfully always, within a day or two of all manner of blows, I have been able to find the resources to regain my footing.

This week has been no different. 

On top of the normal madness of running a family with three school age children, arranging a prep school ball for one hundred and fifty people, together with a fair of amount of lodger “patting” and a couple of visits to my eighty four year old mother, I have been asked three enormous questions by our creditors over the last forty eight hours,

·       Heritable bank have asked if I would I like to consider entering into IVA in an effort to thwart the Bank of Scotland’s continued bully boy tactics.

·         Merrils Ede would like to know if I am prepared to be made bankrupt “without further notice” by the Bank of Scotland for not complying with yet more demands relating to making a payment arrangement.

·        The Capital Gains arm of the Inland Revenue would like to know if I am in agreement with the retrospective calculations for a tax demand they have prepared covering the last ten years of non payment.


With resilience as my master, I have begun to assess the pros and cons of going into an IVA and, along with the help of my trusty friend Chris I have, yet again, resisted the underhand comments of the Bank of Scotland’s solicitors Merrils Ede.   I have not, however, done anything with my letter from the Inland Revenue.   For this I require something more than just resilience and for the past few days this attribute, whatever it may be, appears to have deserted me.

My fear is the Inland Revenue will, with one flourish of their bureaucratic pen sweep us into bankruptcy if I am unable to meet their demands.  It is my understanding they take no prisoners and it is for this reason their letter lies neglected in the dark of my office cupboard waiting for strength to join forces with resilience and give me the wherewithal to tackle the six pages of Inland Revenue calculations.  I know I must at all costs produce a reply which avoids another demand for money we do not have. 

I have always believed harnessing resilience will help me acquire the ability to work with adversity in such a way I may come through it unharmed and perhaps even better for the experience. I haveve learned to accept I must face life’s difficulties with courage and patience by refusing to give up so I can rebound from these misfortunes, hardships and traumas to face overwhelming odds again and again. While I appreciate I can never go back to start a new beginning today or any other day I am, at least, able to take solace in the knowledge there is always tomorrow.

Today I am completely overwhelmed but tomorrow I will start a new day and make a new ending.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Curse of the Strong

The Battle of the Banks has re-commenced today with the help of my loyal and talented letter writing friend, Chris. Despite outwardly embracing this conflict, I know in my heart of hearts, it takes a huge toll on my mental health. The price I usually pay for ignoring my overwhelming urge to either crawl under a stone or run for my life, is my hair loss, my sleep and my concentration.  Today is no exception and the first sign of the stress levels rising is a migraine which has already announced its imminent arrival.

Will power along with a chronic aversion to failure sees me through on days like this. However, it does me no favours.  Outwardly coping there is no indication the receipt of just one such letter has snatched the ground from beneath my feet.  Martin Lewis on the Jeremy Vine show referred to it as the ”Curse of the Strong”.  My decision to face these financial bullies, regardless of the cost to my health, is the only logical choice I have if I am intent on exposing the Bank of Scotland's abdication of all responsibilty for a shortfall their actions created . If I don't "stand and deliver" they will, yet again, get away with sweeping their dirty deeds under the carpet.

Today Merrils Ede’s henchwoman is in my firing line because she, with the Bank of Scotland’s blessing, is attempting to heap sufficient pressure on me to prompt an offer  of either a settlement or a payment arrangement. She is doing this by threatening bankruptcy proceedings again despite having financial eveidence which illustrates we are unable to do either. I have no doubt corresponding in this way also allows her an opportunity to rack up substantial ongoing fees.  It’s a “win win” situation as she stands to earn indefinitely from this unrecoverable debt, safe in the knowledge the Bank of Scotland will continue to pay her as long as she gives them the impression we are withholding payment rather than being, as the CAB have so plainly stated, completely without the means to make any offers.

These are the reasons Merrils Ede should not be wasting theirs and tax payers money chasing us at the Bank of Scotland’s behest and it is this information I intend to share with Ms Rottweiler's boss.
·        The case is in dispute and always has been from before the time Merrils Ede took it on two years ago

·        The CAB have repeatedly told her we have no surplus income or assets with which to offer a settlement and they have repeatedly provided Merrils Ede with evidence to this effect.

·        It is against FSA and OFT guidelines to make payment demands from people who have no means of making payments.

·        The Financial Ombudsman is investigating our case against the Bank of Scotland.

·        Because of our financial demise we are experiencing high levels of stress, as indicated in our doctor’s letters of which they have copies, and therefore our mental health is at risk.

     I suspect the Bank of Scotland appointed henchwoman from Merrils Ede has a personal dislike of people who, like me, are unable to pay their debts.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she has assumed high living and extravagance has been the reason for our shortfall and passed a personal judgement we deserve whatever postal punishment she decides to meter out. Whatever her motivation there is one fundamental principal she has yet to appreciate.

      You cannot get blood from a stone.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Rottweiler's Incorporated

In recognising how hard it is to change oneself it should be easier to understand what little chance there is of changing others. However, this said, should an observation of this nature apply to the perspective of a whole bank and all those employed within it? Is it feasible for one biligerent school of thought to extend, with infectious brainwashing tentacles, into the consciousness of all those individuals commissioned do the Bank of Scotland’s bidding. Is it really possible for an unpleasant mind set on such a scale to be alive and well in the minds of every individual in a company so large?
Today, within the walls of the Bank of Scotland, I am convinced it is.

Despite the numerous letters I have written requesting I be advised be of their instruction to debt collecting solicitors Merrils Ede’s, Bank of Scotland's reply has not been forthcoming.  Although Merrils Ede solicitors know, through our representative at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, I am unlikely ever to be in a position to repay any of our creditors, still they persist with their campaign of persecution with the Bank of Scotland’s blessing.

Today the postman brought a threat from Merrils Ede to start legal and bankruptcy proceedings if they do not hear from me within 10 days. They wish me to provide yet more financial evidence to prove I still don’t have any money.  It is clear the full financial fact find, certified by the CAB, and repeatedly sent to them has clearly proven insufficient again.  Regardless of the fact the Office of Fair Trading state this kind of harassment is contrary to their guidelines, the henchwoman at Merrils Ede continues with her crusade to uncover my "undeclared wealth". On their website they proudly state their debt collecting services regard money owed "like their own" and it goes on to say they pursue “can’t pay’s” in the same way as” won’t pays”.  I can certainly endorse this behaviour as the solicitor assigned to my case refuses to accept having no money is a good enough reason for not making a payment arrangement.

The fact  Merrils Ede has been made aware, on numerous occasions, our £217,000 shortfall is unrecoverable appears to be irrelevant. I am now being pursued by them because the CAB recently told them a great many of our creditors have written off and continue to write of our debts on the basis of hardship and compassion. The CAB did this in an effort to persuade the Bank of Scotland to follow suit, however, using only Rottweiler reasoning, the Merrils Ede henchwoman believes debts being forgiven must have resulted in some additional disposable income for her to direct into the Bank of Scotland's and Merrils Ede’s coffers.

I ask myself , “Is it really so hard to understand the reason so many of our debts have been forgiven is not because we have been paying anyone, but  because we have been unable, and continue to be unable, to make any payments to any of our creditors?” How can having a sum written off in these circumstances leaves anything more in the budget for Rottweiler’s incorporated?

This logicless pursuit is undoubtedly a breach of any number of OFT and Ombudsman guidelines and the ongoing bombardment of menacing letters from the Bank of Scotland’s legal representative is yet another source of agitation in a life full of financial instability and pressure. Moreover, Ms Rottweiler's refusal to believe my unredeemable financial position, is nothing short of insulting. 

Tonight, however, I plan to take solace in the words of Pope John XXIII and tomorrow....... well tomorrow, as with every day, I plan to fight back.

"Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do. "- Pope John XXIII


Debts and rubber ducks

Why is it some people, finding they do not know the answer to the question you have asked, simply make up questions they can answer in order to give a reply? I have just spent twenty minutes on the telephone to someone within the debt advisory services who has chosen to do just that. My difficulties seem to arise because I am quite often more knowledgeable than the people from whom I can afford to seek expertise yet I still feel it is necessary to take advice because I don't feel knowledgeable enough to be confident in my decision making without have a sounding board.
This morning’s frustrations have stemmed from my Heritable Hero’s offer to “encourage” the Bank of Scotland to accept an Individual Voluntary Arrangement. This IVA would include my husband’s remaining personal creditors of £73,000, business creditors of £75,000, together with some non hostile credit card debt which is not being pursued as well as our mortgage shortfall of £217,000. Heritable Bank have already agreed to write off our shortfall of £209,000 but have suggested, as an alternative, I consider whether it would be beneficial for me to use Heritable’s offer to force my hostile creditors (Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, Nat West, MBNA, Abbey National, Cahoot and Capital One) into accepting an IVA. This will not require a monetary outlay, but instead could be a method by which to render them powerless to pursue me.

While putting an end to the financial pressure is a very attractive proposition, I desperately feel the need for an expert to go through the nuts and bolts of it with me so I can make an informed decision.  My layman’s understanding of the rulings are that as long as 75% of my creditors agree, I can pay whatever is acceptable to them (rubber ducks was one suggestion) and be home and dry without any more postal panic, doorstep claw hammer threats or armed police responses ever again.

But is this the best course of action for me to take right now?

With this question in mind I made National Debt Line my first stop.  After updating my financial fact find and fending off the advisor’s urges to launch into a discussion on bankruptcy with me, I was told I could not consider an IVA without doing an income and expenditure analysis to assess my disposable income. When I explained  they had completely lost sight of the fact I may well be paying in rubber ducks, their rather shirty reply was this was not the normal way to approach an IVA and it was their opinion most people would look at something in the region of twenty pence in the pound.

Having finally got him to accept rubber ducks were precisely the kind of IVA both I and Heritable Bank had in mind, he had to concede this was indeed, technically, a possibility but felt it was imperative I go on hold while they checked with their legal department whether it would be possible for Heritable Bank to make me do this!  It took me several minutes more to convince him nobody was attempting to force me to pay them in rubber ducks, or anything else for that matter.  Finally, broken and confused, but still trying to save face, my advisor agreed to allow me to ask him my question.

“Now you are in possession of all the facts,” I said, “is this a feasible way forward for me right now?”

Of course his answer was, “I couldn’t possibly answer a question of this kind. You will have to ask an insolvency practitioner but remember you will have to pay.”

I have always been aware that the odds of going into a supermarket for a loaf of bread and coming out with just a loaf of bread are three billion to one.  I had foolishly hoped that National Debt Line would have at least allowed me my loaf of bread but I suppose I shouldn't have been looking at a bakery for pearls of wisdom. 

Monday, 23 May 2011

Blood, Fret and Tears


Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger once said, "Any fact that needs to be disclosed should be put out now or as quickly as possible, because otherwise the bleeding will never end" and while I appreciate he was referring to damage limitation as US secretary of state, his observations ring equally true for the effects of mental illness and stress.  However, if my own case is anything to go by, the Bank of Scotland, now part of Lloyds Banking Group, have no interest in damage limitation for anyone other than themselves, nor do they consider the toll of the never ending bleed of mental ill health, more commonly known as stress, inflicts on the individuals in their hands.
Our troubles began in 2006 when, having just remortgaged with the Bank of Scotland to fund a building project, both my husband’s mother and brother were simultaneously diagnosed with familial MND. Although they were told MND running in families was almost unheard of, it became blatantly clear (as my husband’s aunt had died from MND twenty years earlier) our family had drawn a very short, and frightening, straw.  Between regular trips to care for our dying relatives my husband made the decision to sell our beautiful sixteenth century home on the completion of the building project as he it wished to become our new home. He believed relocating would provide us with not only a place to live but an income from the annexed accommodation as he feared he too was suffering from the early signs of MND and would soon be paralyzed or on his death bed  just like his forty four year old brother.
When my husbands mother and brother died in March 2007, sadly only three weeks apart, I agreed to put our home on the market knowing only that my husband no longer wished to work in residential property development market. Completely unaware of his health issues and without the knowledge my husband had been late with several mortgage payments in an effort to supplement the cash flow of the other build, I was pleased when a keen cash purchaser was found in November 2007 on the grounds it would simplify life for my husband after such a grueling and emotionally draining year.

However, in just a few short weeks prospects for my husband, me and our three young children completely changed.

·        In January 2008 our purchaser’s purchaser withdrew the offer on their house on the grounds he did not wish to develop their property in a falling market.

·        In March 2008 our purchasers, conveyance solicitors, found a new purchaser but after experiencing a sharp downturn in their turnover, decided to redirect funds originally allocated to the house purchase of our house, to their business.

·        In April 2008 our purchasers applied for a mortgage in order to raise funds to buy our house.

·        In May 2008 our purchaser’s mortgage valuation revealed our house was not worth the agreed £950,000 price they had offered four months earlier but instead was only worth £800,000. This was £225,000 less than our Bank of Scotland mortgage valuation of May 2006.

·        In June 2008, still waiting to see if our purchasers were prepared to proceed at a lower price but with no other prospective buyers in sight, we decided to look for a tenant to cover the monthly mortgage interest payments.

·        In July 2008 our mortgage payments rose from £2,400 a month to over £5,000 per month when our two year fixed rate ended.

·         In August 2008 our purchasers formally withdrew their offer.

·      In September 2008 a tenant was secured for our property at £2,200 per month but the Bank of Scotland rejected our proposal to tenant our home and make part payments.

·        In October 2008 the funding for our building project dried up when our business bank went into administration and as a consequence my husband became unemployed.

·        In October 2008 I discovered my husband had not been opening the post or paying the mortgage for more than sixth months leaving us £27,000 in arrears. I took over the running of our finances and the responsibility for the post.

·        In October 2008 my husband confessed, had he not discovered his life assurance had lapsed, he had every intention of committing suicide.

·        In October 2008 my husband and I visited our doctor and were told he was suffering from symptoms of extreme stress and unresolved grief but thankfully not MND.

·        In October 2008 I told the Bank of Scotland I had not been privy to any conversations or received any communication from them concerning our arrears.

·        In November 2008 I again offered the Bank of Scotland monthly payments of £2,200 as interest rates had fallen and my husband had found part-time employment in a local supermarket. My proposal was rejected once again, this time on the grounds it was too late.

·        In November 2008 Bank of Scotland applied for and were granted a possession order for my home. I sat, alone, in front of the judge and wept.

·        In April 2009 the Bank of Scotland sold our home for £665,000 leaving us with a £217,000 shortfall.

·        In April 2009 the Bank of Scotland instructed their solicitors Merrils Ede to pursue us for the repayment of a £217,000 shortfall from my husband’s salary of £12,000 per year.

·        In April 2009 and in complete contrast, our business bank Heritable agreed to complete and sell our unfinished building project and write off the £209,000 shortfall on compassionate grounds.

  • In  June 2009 I was told I would most probably have a case against the Bank of Scotland for their lack of duty of care and their over valuation of my property at outset. To date I have been unable to secure anyone to take my case forward without funding.

Throughout the following year, with the charitable help of the CAB’s debt consultants, a total of £800,000 of my husband’s business and personal debt was written off on grounds of compassion and hardship. The Bank of Scotland and their parent company Lloyds Banking Group are alone in their decision to perpetuate our purgatory with their unrelenting harassment for repayment. In desperation, I have tried  to enlist the help of the Financial Ombudsman Service only to be told the Bank of Scotland are contractually at liberty to pursue us for a shortfall regardless of the manner in which it was created . They FOS have also advised me the Bank of Scotland plan to argue that my case is both out of jurisdiction on timescale and without  legal substance. The Bank of Scotland are adamant the regulatory and government initiatives to encourage banking forbearance in cases such as ours are merely unenforceable guidelines, codes of conduct and protocols which are not legally binding. The Financial Ombudsman agrees with them.
Had the Bank of Scotland accepted our offer of rental income against our mortgage payments in September 2008 we would still have a home to return to today. The rental would have provided sufficient income to cover the interest on our mortgage as well as a substantial contribution towards the arrears. However,  instead, the Bank of Scotland chose to use the possession order they acquired through the courts to push through the forced sale of our home in April 2009. In doing so they created a huge deficit by way of a £217,000 shortfall which, from outset, they were fully aware was and is beyond us to resolve.
After three years of continued persecution and, according to my advisors, a further nine years to go before the Bank of Scotland are themselves out of jurisdiction, it seems they are nothing short of hell bent on driving both my husband and I to our stress related deaths before they will reconsider their position. To date I have lost my all my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes along with forty pounds in weight while my husband regularly alternates between uncontrollable rage and suicidal despondency. Our children often refer with sadness to happier times before we lost our home.
In the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger, and in the absence of any money, I can only conclude the Bank of Scotland are determined to ensure our “bleeding will never end".

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Outstanding accounts

As my husband arrived home earlier than unexpected today he found me sitting with a friend in our cosy farmhouse kitchen.  Being a very blustery day, we had chosen warm tea and M&S waste sale chocolate for our refreshment while injured seals were the topic of conversation. This comforting scene was achieved by exercising a well practiced mental manoeuvre which took me swiftly from debt fighting machine to comely housewife and mother in the blink of an eye and, by adopting this facade, I have managed to maintain the divide between our unpalatable past and our family’s future. 
My friend, equally chameleon like in her abilities, played her role of tea drinking companion to perfection as she packed away her computer while chatting about current affairs with my husband.  After a few minutes of pleasantries, she discreetly gathered up the post of the day and made her exit.  She, like my husband, understands the rules only too well.  The financial monster in the cupboard has been strictly out of bounds for him since October 2008.
The letters dispatched today are as consequence of my email being featured on BBC Radio 2.  Host Jeremy Vine was discussing debt related mental health issues with Martin Lewis who gasped when he heard my story.  The task in hand has been to attempt to contact Martin Lewis for help.
One of the many points which were made was even a relatively strong, financially aware person, such as myself, is unable to make suitable and informed decisions while suffering from stress.  The organisations whose livelihoods depend on the collection of debt, trade on this knowledge.  It is little wonder many people, including my husband, are driven to consider suicide because of the debt collecting companies campaigns of unrelenting harassment. In 2008 we were receiving upwards of thirty phone calls a day starting at 8.00am and finishing at 9.00pm. I always answered every one.
For six months my friend watched me attempt to deal with our insurmountable financial problems until April 2009, when, I finally agreed to accept her help.  By this time I had lost 35lbs and every hair on my body.
Today and every day since, my friend has freely given her time to fight my cause. We call it the “Crap Clinic” and we meet regularly to engage in the “Battle of the Banks”.  Because of her determined resolve at a time when I was emotionally on my knees, my £1,000,000 horror story has been reduced to a mere £350,000 nightmare.  Thankfully, she has agreed to see it through with me to the very end.  Without her selfless devotion, I would have undoubtedly collapsed under the pressure.
How can I ever repay her?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Postal Panic

Former stand up comedian, youth counsellor and advocate of social emotional learning Michael Pritchard once said, "Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed" and as a result of my ongoing experiences at the hands of the banks, my fear is now fully developed into an all encompassing and completely involuntary negative reaction whenever I catch sight of our postman.

Frequently terrified to the core at a mere glimpse of a Royal Mail van outside my house, the feeling of utter defenselessness has been further heightened now I have been advised by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau that their debt counselling budget for my case has been exhausted. Despite the fact that I rarely receive any correspondence I am unable to deal with these days, I seem to be incapable of allowing logic to suppress my panic. This is the price I am paying for attempting to deal direct with the banks following a financial demise which left my family without an income and homeless, and my husband with forty four defaulted credit cards, four defaulted mortgages and a substantial number of the irate tradesmen.


Initially, my daily mission was to speak or write in response to every letter received in the belief that taking action would be the antidote to the all consuming terror I felt at our hopeless financial position. Needless to say I got nowhere. At best the collections departments were sympathetic but all insisted they had no means of communicating with the decision makers within their own organisations and as a result their hands were tied. The postal persecution continued. Forty letters a day advised me I had ignored all previous attempts to communicate, bailiffs would be calling to assess my assets and doorstep collection agents were imminent. The notification of court cases pending were too numerous to even warrant separate files. Despite constantly communicating with each and every one of them the heartless harassment continues and repeatedly trying to resolve the seemingly unresolvable cost me my hair and my health.
Today, thankfully, my postman brought only good news yet the short term relief from a single day of respite remains blighted by the knowledge that tomorrow my fears of further threats will probably be justified. Persecution by post has consumed my life, my health and my marriage and now, in addition to living with the horrors of a million pounds of unresolvable debt I also fear, if the banks continue to have their way, postal panic is not a condition I will ever be allowed to recover from.

I hope and pray I am wrong.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Health wealth and happiness




I read recently "the true measure of a man is what he would do if he would never be caught” and having always operated with a totally different moral outlook myself, I struggle to comprehend a life code of this kind.  For me it has always been about whether or not a proposed action is beneficial for all those concerned and, for the last thirty three years, every one of my decisions has, by necessity, taken into account the impact it would have on my children.

In the early days, within the first few months of the Grand Opening, I was desperate to understand the motivating values on which my husband based the decisions which ultimately led to our family to its complete financial demise.   It was a chance meeting which gave me the first tiny insightful fragment into what may have happened to my husband’s decision making processes.

According to my source there are two completely separate elements to making every decision, namely the cerebral and the emotional. The emotional component works out the impact of a proposed actions success or failure while the cerebral component does the calculations necessary for its implementation and measures the chance of  its success. I am told neither process should rule the other but instead they should work in partnership to give a balance of risk verses return for every decision. 

It is clear to me  my husband’s withdrawal following the grief he suffered on diagnosis of his aunt, his mother and his brother from Motor Neurone disease, followed by their sad, painful and terrifying deaths only weeks apart, promoted an emotional shut down which had a catastrophic affect on my husband’s business acumen. However, whilst I can explain and understand these circumstances in a single, heart- broken man, I cannot for the life of me understand the logic of an almost identical decision making process which appears to have guided HBOS bankers down a similar path of ditruction. Surely when it comes to an corporate strategy, the chances of making responsible business decisions are improved by the numbers of those involved in rolling out these commercial initiatives. That is, of course, unless the banking industry has been brought to its knees by what the men at the top were prepared to do believing they would not be caught.

While  I can see irresponsible lending along with banking executive greed has undoubtedly brought our financial industry to its knees, sadly it is not the culprits of this crime who are destined to suffer the cost. Instead, it is my family’s health, wealth and happiness which appears to be the price they are only to happy to pay. French mathematician Blaise Pascal once said," Justice and power must be brought together so that whatever is powerful is just and whatever is just is powerful."
I live in hope.





 

It's a mad, mad world

Along with the other Mum’s of the year five children at my son’s prep school, I am nearing the completion of their longitudinal study.  I am expecting to do quite well, in a nine year old boy sort way, but can’t for the life on me understand why, each year, the unwritten school law dictates this project should be produced. If the Mum’s are hard at work producing it then surely it is beyond the ability of the vast majority of the pupils for whom it is set.
 There is however, a bi-product.  The expectation for me to turn a small boy’s efforts into something the school can be proud of has allowed me to become an expert on Lord Kelvin the mathematician and physicist.  When, during my research, I discovered Lord Kelvin said “you can understand perfectly if you give your mind to it,” I found myself sighing in exasperation at my endless, and so far fruitless, attempts to have a meaningful dialogue with Lloyds TSB and HBOS.
Further frustrated at more examples of Lloyds TSB’s mindless and misguided actions when I read journalist and BBC reporter Ian Fraser’s recent blog I can't but be incredulous to discover Antonio Horta-Osorio is being rewarded with a “golden hello” in excess £13,000,000 in recognition of the difficulties he is to face in his new job as trouble shooter extraordinaire. Having written to Antonio Horta-Osorio twice recently I do not rate his chances at living up to the board of Lloyds TSB’s expectations if my experiences are anything to go by. My first letter to him was as Chief Executive of Santander. I wrote in an effort to solicit some support and compassion following an Abbey National campaign of bombardment due to our credit card default.
 On the second occasion I wrote to him in his role as Chief Executive of Lloyds TSB.  In this letter I asked him to intervene with HBOS. They have, over the course of two years, been harassing and bullying me in an effort to collect on a debt they know to be unrecoverable and which still hold they created.   In both cases I did not receive a reply and although I concede I am but a small fish, it does not bode well if organisations cannot communicate with their customers and  instead continue to waste share holders money chasing unrecoverable debt.  If this is too change I, like Ian Fraser, cannot see how paying Executives lavish rewards at any time, let alone in a recession,  can do anything other than massage their egos to the point of deity status.  To pay them obscene amounts before they have achieved any of the anticipated results seems nothing short of ludicrous. 
Lord Kelvin also said, “When you are faced with a difficulty, you are up against a discovery” and after the past two years of extreme financial and emotional hardship I can only agree  I have discovered after much personal difficult with both HBOS bankers and my son's longitudinal study,  the madness is clearly set to continue in both the banking world and at my son’s prep school.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Heritable Heroes


As I sit writing in the comfortable warmth of my kitchen while listening to a Beatles CD, I have one eye on my twelve year old daughter who is dancing with gleeful abandon while singing along enthusiastically.  Always delighted to see evidence of how untouched my children are by our ongoing financial traumas, I find myself further smiling at the start of Paperback Writer as I am reminded of a recent conversation with my business mortgage manager in which his words of encouragement were, on this occasion, about my writing abilities.

Aware of the saying that kindness can never be wasted, I had never ever envisaged I would be using a bank as an example of the extent of this human kindness. After all, I like so many others within the financial services industry believed it common knowledge a bank has no heart. However, having used the past forty one blogging opportunities to slate the majority of the banking community, I thought it timely to share the experience I have had at the hands of my business bank Heritable who have, in all their dealings with me, been all heart.

After the “Grand Opening” on 1 October 2008 I was forced by circumstance, over the space of little more than an hour, to redefine my role as contented middle class, stay-at-home housewife and mother, to become not only a "One a Woman Debt fighting machine", but a management consultant for a deficit of a million pounds and a "Bank Battler" extraordinaire. My sixty minutes of letter opening had revealed that, as well as a large house with more than two hundred thousand pounds of negative equity and four hundred and forty six thousand pounds of credit card debt, our property development company, which enjoyed limited liability negated by directors guarantees, had two half built assets of dubious value. Unbeknown to me and at the very same as I was licking my wounds on the discovery of my own impossible financial situation in the comfort of my soon to be repossessed sixteenth century home, our business bankers Heritable, were doing precisely the same thing in their London offices with the help of their Administrators.
Now, nearly two and a half years on, and in complete contrast to the actions of the Bank of Scotland, Heritable Bank have done everything within their power to help me make something of our company’s business assets. Sadly, the flaunting of planning regulations on my husband’s part  combined with a recession fuelled fall in property prices dictated circumstances were against us from the outset. In spite of both my and the banks combined efforts, our company, and by default my husband and I, have been left with yet another substantial debt. Two hundred and nine thousand pounds remains outstanding after the disposal of our business properties and this time it is Heritable Bank holding the ticket and not, as is the case with the forced sale on our main residence, HBOS .
Now the "assets of dubious value” have been sold, Heritable Bank, have elected to implement a pragmatic solution to our shortfall. Without prompting I was contacted and advised it is their intention to write off this debt on compassionate grounds and in so doing, Heritable have allowed me to preserve my dignity, in all my dealings with them, right through to the very end. In complete contrast HBOS, have seen fit to defend their right to hound me mercilessly from outset for a £217,000 shortfall their actions created and, but for the automatic amnesty status of any compliant under investigation by the Financial Ombudsman's Service's investigation, I have little doubt HBOS would be continuing to persecute me with monotonous regularity to date.

Quaker missionary Stephan Grellet once said, "I expect to pass through this world only once, therefore any good thing I can do, any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now: let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again." I have experienced nothing but kindness and compassion at the hands of Heritable Bank and I know, in my heart of hearts, the reason for this comes down to just one man. I believe it was he who elected, unlike HBOS, to take a leaf out of Grellet's book and act with compassion, empathy and understanding throughout.
For this simple act of kindness and for continuing to follow and encourage my blog, he is most definitely my Heritable Hero.

Childish things

Today my husband said there is nothing better than watching things grow in our garden and holding me in his arms. However, in truth there is in another love he holds even dearer and thankfully it is a love we both unreservedly share. 

The love for our children.
An all consuming determination to keep my family together throughout the trials and tribulations of our financial circumstances has been driven by the belief that it is what is best for my children and the sense of responsibility I feel for them has provided me with the resolve to continue battling with the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB for an unencumbered future for us all.
Thankfully no longer racked with grief for the life we had it did not take to feel the impact of our circumstances. Life without money is a life with less choice but equally I have a great deal to be thankful of. For example, I remain indebted to our landlords for the compassion and understanding they showed when they offered us our tenancy without references, reduced the rent to something we could afford and allowed us to take a lodger to make ends meet.   However, this benevolence comes at a price.  Inadequate heating, leaky windows and pipes go unchecked and without money I have no choice but to stay put.
A similar situation exists when it comes to my children’s prep school.  I am truly grateful to the Headmaster for the bursaries we now have for our children but if there are any issues, I know I will be paralysed out of gratitude for his generosity.  
My nine year old son is a loving child with an inquiring mind, an open smile and a kind, polite disposition. He is rarely naughty and is generally very keen to please. He has grown up in the shadow of two older siblings both of which are exceptionally able academically while sadly my youngest son is dyslexic and often really struggles in the classroom. To my great relief the staff at his independent school have been working very hard on building his confidence by using every opportunity to praise both his creative abilities and his sporting prowess and because of this after years of limited confidence, he is now beginning to show signs of some self belief. 
However, yesterday this was far from the case.
Distraught at being told by his teacher she was ashamed of him for not producing the standard of work she anticipated, I find my son, once again, convinced he is the most "stupidest person in our family". While I, impoverished and powerless thanks to a financial position HBOS have done their best to compound, I remain hindered from coming to my son's defense out of gratitude for his private education without charge. 

Money is most definitely not everything, it does buy choice and I have discovered to my extreme frustration, accepting the benevolence of others can uncomfortable impair the voice.

Today, my heart bleeds for my son.

Viva Espana

They say life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans and today I wholeheartedly subscribe to this observation.  In the space of hour I have visited my eighty four year old Mum, called in on a friend for a coffee, told my lodger Daryl not to leave rotting stinking food in our fridge, advised the Chairman of the school Governors their marketing strategy is flawed, praised the Friends secretary for all the hard work she is doing on the up and coming summer ball, explored how best to prepare for a court case against the Bank of Scotland with my solicitor, and discussed the legal implications with our tenant in Spain in the event of the imminent repossession of our apartment.

In reality any one of these subjects would be more than enough for my addled brain but knowing full well success usually comes to those who are too busy to go looking for it, I always feel compelled to do everything I have agreed to. The job I had planned for today was simply to establish what Banca Caja in Spain want to do with our apartment on the Costa Del Sol. We haven't been there for three years and have made no payments for most of this time to either Banca Caja, who hold the mortgage, or the community who provide the maintenance services for the complex. Bizarrely enough, it was only when some good friends found a long term tenant for me who expressed a interest in buying it, the real trouble started.

Discovering the rent being offered was enough to pay all the interest on the mortgage with Banca Caja as well as 95% of the Community fees, I foolishly thought those concerned would be pleased if I arranged for my tenant to pay these amounts direct to both of them. It was at this point the madness began. On moving in, my tenant, who enjoyed watching the BBC channels on TV was disappointed to find that the Community satellite was failing to provide them. He approached the community manager about a repair but was told it would not be forth coming without a committee vote. This was because our financial difficulties had resulted in 9000 euros of arrears.

At the committee meeting the Chairman of the Community recommended a vote to a force sale of the apartment on the pretext that the equity from this be used to recoup the amount owing. No amount of explaining on my part that the property had 100,000 euros of negative equity would deter him. I later discovered, his motive had less to do with settling an outstanding community account and a lot to do with acquiring our apartment cheap for his friend.

 My tenant, who by this time was feeling very insecure, suggested I write to my bank and my solicitor to verify his position.  I did this only to hear that the bank also wished to take possession of the apartment too but had not done so because they had forgotten to impliment it two years previously. I was assured that my tenant could remain in residence due to his protected tenancy and he would be allowed to purchase the apartment within a five year period. Banca Caja went on to say that they would, in exchange for my agreement to this, write off the 100,000 euros negative equity and arrears and settle all outstanding bills against the property including the Community fees.

Hallelujah, I thought.

Everyone is happy (except perhaps the Chairman of the Community’s bargain hunting friend) and no stupid “Bank of Scotland type” debt collecting persecution tactics for me to deal with either.
The icing on the cake was that, during the following weeks, Banca Caja stopped allocating the rent payments to my mortgage account. When I enquired why, they insisted that it was no longer necessary as any interest due when the repossession was implemented would form part of the write off. My tenant, whose solicitor advised him he had to pay rent to someone to protect his tenancy rights, has continued to pay it to me and I have now purchased a modest holiday with the proceeds.
Thanks Banca Caja you have been great but do you realise, I wonder, that you have still not repossessed my apartment.

I am now wondering if maybe you have forgotten again.


Friday, 13 May 2011

Furious and furiouser

They say strength does not come from winning but from the struggles along the way and it has become clear I am destined to struggle in everything I do if the last three days are an accurate indicator.  The task in hand is to organise the up and coming Prep School Summer Ball and I had no idea putting on event of this kind would be such source of angst for all those concerned as well as an enormous headache for me.
I took up my current role in appreciation of the Bursaries we were awarded by the Headmaster. His actions made it possible for my younger two children to follow in their brother and sisters footsteps by enjoying an independent education which would have otherwise been beyond our means.  Having always believed  every effort should be made to pay ones way, I was happy to help when the Head asked me to consider being the Chairman of their Friends as the previous one had resigned after last year’s ball.
·         How hard could it be for someone with six years experience in the role of Chairman at her children’s previous school?
·         How hard could it be for someone who, at twenty five ran three of her own retail outlets and employed eight staff?
·         How hard could it be for someone who advised four hundred and fifty financial services clients every year?
·         How hard could it be for someone whose working life was spent entirely in a people driven industry?
·         How hard could it be for someone whose previous expertise included the organising of two Charity Balls for the insurance industry?
·         How hard could it be for a mother who had arranged her eldest daughter’s wedding with one hundred and fifty guests, at home, five days after she home delivered her 11lb fifth child?
·          How hard could it be for the one woman debt fighting machine who has endured an armed police response on her drive and claw hammer threatening tradesmen on her door step?
In short it is nigh on impossible.
·         Who would have thought some would do too little and some far too much.
·         Who would have thought some would find a way always to agree while others always object.
·         Who would have thought some would insist it’s always been one way when others insist it’s never stopped being the other.
And who would have thought at a previous summer ball, my predecessor would hit someone when they called her a “fat slag”!
Here’s hoping whatever my struggles are over this year’s Summer Ball,  That which I am calling “gaining experience” avoids being re-branded as "making a big mistake”.  Armed with my plan to court goodwill with good manners to secure a compromise, I am hoping adopting these principals I will not only deliver an enjoyable event but will avoid the need for anyone to throw the first punch!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Try, try and try again

Abraham Lincoln said, "Whatever you are, make sure you are a good one" and in an effort to step up to the wearing of my somewhat dusty housewifely hat, I made a light lunch for my husband and I to enjoy without our children. During the course of this interlude of domestic bliss my husband looked up from his lunch and, observing my watering eyes, enquired if I had had an allergic reaction to something.

I explained that I had been choking.

However, despite sitting inches away from me across our table, he had been so lost in thought he completey missed my distress and there was a look of incredulous surprise across his face as it dawned on him he had, despite his proximaty, no recollection of what had happened to me.
Basking in the security of the past weeks "warmer glow", I decided, with some misgivings, to use the opportunity to tell him this "moment of absence" was not an isolated incident.

I was totally unprepared for what followed.

Whereas I saw my kindly and carefully voiced disclosure as a way of opening a dialogue from which we might find our way back, my husband saw it as an accusation which required defending.  No amount of explaining  the frequency of these "absent episodes" was not a judgement but merely an observation, would deter him from his argument.  Despite the fact he had acquired, for himself, proof they were a reality, he could not accept his opinion on their frequency was simply invalid.  I thought our objective should be not to query their existence, but to lovingly discuss how best for us both to live with them.

Overwhelmingly tired of the life I could see stetching ahead for me yet desperate to ensure my children do not grow up without a father, I visualised the coming years with a husband constantly in denial of all circumstances and all attributes which displeased him. I was destined be struggling silently to provide family stabilty at the cost of any personal expectations of happiness and retired to bed early with a very heavy heart.

Waking early, I crept out of bed to make a start on my plans for a future without him, only to notice his clothes on the floor discarded from the night before.  They lay carefully and childishly folded in a pile which was too small for their volume and I knew this unsolicited task had been undertaken in an effort to seek my approval.  With my resolve still intact, I made my way to the bedroom door imagining it to be the portal between me and the rest of my life.  My husband stirred with the noise of  my opening the latch the and it was then I heard his muffled words,

"Come back to bed so I can make you a cup of tea".

"Alright then", was my well practised reply,"if you are sure you don't mind"

Whatever I am, be it lover of my family, lover of my husband or just a lover of tea,  I have always endeavoured, like Abraham Lincoln suggests "to be a good one".  I have tried to do the right thing and in this instance I am sure of one thing and one thing only, I am definitely good at trying again and again and again.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Awakenings

I remember reading somewhere there are no limits to an individual’s fascination for themselves and with this in mind I find myself wondering if it is a self-obsession which drives me to continue to blog about my life. Having given this concept some consideration, I have come to the conclusion my motivation has less to do with me than it has to do with my determination to piece my family's life back together. In the last week two things have happened which have made me feel I might, at last, be making some headway in this respect.

The first was a conversation with Ian Fraser whose supportive words gave me a very welcome sign  my rantings on the subject of the Bank of Scotland have been heard. It was an encouraging indication I might have finally acquired a voice and it offered me hope of eventually being more than a mere whisper to a hand full of much valued friends.

The other major development was my husband not only mustered a smiled in my direction but also initiated several conversations with me which were not about the weather. Any attempt at meaningful conversation on his part recently is a huge breakthrough in what has amounted to a debt related marital silence which has lasted for more than two and a half years. I am not sure what has instigated this subtle move from cool to slightly warm but I know he was asked a question by my twelve year old daughter which might have been the catalyst.

She simply wanted know if he loves me and it is my suspicion it may well be this very question, asked in childish innocence which has promoted a shift in his overall disposition. This, along with his awareness now, unlike any other time during our seventeen year marriage, I am either tapping away on my computer or engaged in a variety of activities which are totally independent of him. Perhaps these small changes in me have at last awakened a realisation some interactive effort is required on both sides if he wishes to remain a presence in my life. Who knows what has prompted this change in my husband but whatever the motivation, a little bit of long awaited warmth has been a pleasing occurrence.

So, with these two developments firmly in mind I continue to be hopeful my perceptions are real and not instead illusions which all too often collide with reality only to be dashed to pieces again along with my expectations.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Never-ending stories

Now I have actually started looking, I have come across many reported stories of the unscrupulous dealings of banking institutions. However it is clear, the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB take the biscuit every time. I can say this with conviction because I have personally fallen foul of their penchant for persecuting the poor. We are now completely penniless as a direct consequence of their irresponsible lending spree together with a "come what may" attitude to their administrative obligations.

When, in October 2008, I discovered my unenviable financial position it did not occur to me to look for legislation and court rulings made in favour of women in similar circumstances. At the time my life was in tatters and so was I. More recently, I have had both the time and the inclination to explore these avenues and in so doing have unearthed barrister Richard Colbey's article in the Telegraph in 2001.

Mr Colbey talks of a House of Lords ruling which has given the wives of businessmen a right to their share of the equity in their homes. This has come about because it is recognises spouses are in danger of being coerced, by their partners and their mortgage lenders, into agreeing to family homes being taken as security to raise funds for their husband's businesses. Richard Colbey says the courts are to follow the House of Lords' ruling putting the onus on the lender to make sure a husband and wife take separate independent legal advice when taking out, or increasing, a mortgage on a family's main residence if funds are to be raised for non residential purposes. This precaution ensures neither borrower unknowingly finds themselves in a position where they could lose their home in an attempt to support a spouse's business. Richard Colbey says, "In future, lenders who hope to be able to rely on mortgage deeds signed by a wife will have to prove she was seen by a solicitor who was not acting for the bank or her husband before they can repossess the whole property."

There are two areas of concern which apply to me;

Firstly, at the time of signing our mortgage document, I was not advised by the Bank of Scotland to seek any legal advice independently and separately from my husband and the mortgage company. This does not surprise me in the slightest as this nonchalant view the Bank of Scotland have of co-signing spouses has been evident throughout my dealings with them. When, unbeknown to me, the arrears on our mortgage started to build up, the Bank of Scotland made no attempt to contact me personally. This neglect directly resulted in the loss of our family home because the Bank of Scotland denied me an opportunity, at the start of any problems, to rectify the situation.

In addition, the Bank of Scotland unashamedly excluded me from all debt counselling conversations they had with my husband through our difficulties. They even levied a charge of £100 for a final debt counselling consultation which my husband was supposed to have had when neither of us was even in the country. The Bank of Scotland says they based their decision to repossess our lovingly restored sixteenth century home of ten years on the findings of this consultation. On enquiring why I was not included in any discussions at any stage, the Bank of Scotland said, "it was not their responsibility to make sure husband and wife communicate" and in the case of a married couple, they believe speaking to one person is enough. They stated in most cases where there are arrears, it is unusual for either borrower to want to speak to their lender in the first place and because of this statistic they had no reason to believe I would be any different. I was, and still am, outraged at this laissez faire attitude to joint and severally liable spouses on Bank of Scotland mortgages.

Secondly;

If this House of Lord's ruling was in place and being reported in 2001 why was I rail-roaded by the Bank of Scotland and the courts in November 2008 into thinking I had no grounds on which to halt the repossession process? I was in touch with the Bank of Scotland several times a week from 2 October 2008 trying to explain my predicament in an attempt to explore all the options. However, the Bank of Scotland insisted, other than making full monthly interest payments immediately, as well as offering a substantial monthly sum via a payment arrangement towards paying off the arrears, I had no alternative other than agree to sell at a forced sale value unless I wished be repossessed. As my husband had not found employment at that stage, I agreed to sign their power of sale terms. The Bank of Scotland insisted the court case go ahead and, in November 2008, the judge ruled in support of the Bank of Scotland's application for a repossession order. If I did not remain in agreement to the forced sale of my home, the order was to come into effect on 5 January 2009 and give the Bank of Scotland the power to proceed with a repossession. The Bank of Scotland valued our home for mortgage purposes in May 2006 at £925,000 and it was sold, under duress, for £245,000 less in April 2009 for a mere £665,000 creating a £217,000 shortfall.

I can see now my sorry tale is just another example of the compassionless lending policies employed by the Bank of Scotland. It can be added to the ever increasing list of the Bank of Scotland's unashamed and callous attitude towards their customers, their investors and their shareholders. Along with the Reading scandal which is reported in depth in BBC reporter and journalist Ian Fraser's article, it is yet another example of a directive which has been rolled out by HBOS executives to push high risk lending out to small businesses regardless of the cost to the families of those concerned.

When the Bank of Scotland's commercial risk backfired, unlike the many other lenders I have had dealings with, they have happily laid the blame at somebody else's door expecting the individual concerned, the tax payer, the investor and no doubt anyone else they can think of to pay the price.
As well as a catalogue of offences in Ian Fraser's report HBOS the Worst Bank in the World, the Bank of Scotland's attitude to selling money in this irresponsible manner has legitimised a greed for the massive introductory fees that go hand in hand with the marketing of high risk lending. The fees which were generated from placing our mortgage with the Bank of Scotland in May 2006 were £3,931.25 to the introducer plus an additional £699.00 which the Bank of Scotland awarded themselves. These figures do not include any commissions earned by selling supporting life assurance and repayment vehicles both of which can add thousands to the introducer's financial remuneration.

Sadly, I continue to be advised although I probably do have a case against the Bank of Scotland, it will cost £40,000 to bring it to court. No doubt the knowledge of the dire financial circumstances  many of their victims now face, allows the Bank of Scotland to continue with their persecution of the poor, safe in the knowledge as individuals we will not have the means with which to make them answerable for their dirty dealings whether they be in Reading, or in the sleepy back water I once used to call home.