“Unfortunately, the story of this family is not an isolated case,” Network Against Poverty’s Heidi Dejriks wrote after testifying on Zorgen voor Mama. Public sales rarely lead to debt repayment. The financial return is very low and never outweighs the emotional impact on people who actually wear burlap.
In episode 3 of VRT’s “Caring for My Mom,” viewers got an insight into abuses in the debt industry this week. The household belongings of a heavily indebted family are confiscated and then kept in a damp hut for two years. It is then sold to pay off a debt of 3,500 euros. The sale yields a paltry 310 euros, well below the actual value. What is the point of driving people in financial troubles further for nothing by confiscating their property and then selling it for almost nothing? The only thing you check with this is that people with an empty bank account are also left with an empty house, much to a disgrace.
Public selling rarely pays off debts
Public sale of property ownership rarely pays off debts precisely because bailiffs allow it to be sold at a very low price. Therefore, the Anti-Poverty Network calls to stop confiscating people’s property. The financial return is very low and never outweighs the emotional impact on people who actually wear burlap.
Lack of information and sky barriers
It is appalling that the family has lived for two years with their belongings sitting in a damp warehouse waiting to be sold. Even more shocking, however, is that they have to deal with the absolute lack of information and the towering barriers that bailiffs build so that people in debt can barely reach them. In “Mother’s Care” we have seen how the Lucinda family only obtains information through the intervention of street worker Joost, when this is about their private things. And even this social worker would have to go to great lengths to get access to the record. When he calls, he automatically goes to a voicemail telling him to send an email, after which the recorder will call him. This is a hallucination. In the meantime, the bill continues to increase with interest on late payments. You will lose heart for less.
Complete lack of control over the work of bailiffs
A complex obstacle course, especially for people with digital, mental and/or language barriers. Moreover, there is absolutely no examination on the performance of debt preparers (Bailiffs). Therefore, the Anti-Poverty Network requested some time to train debt preparers in debt brokers, put them under the supervision of the FPS Economy to prevent abuses and establish clear procedures for complaints and appeals when things go wrong. We also argue in favor of capping the interest, which is now often a multiple of the original debt.
2000 euros for the loss of 5 books from the library due to the eviction
A horrific story comes from one of our associations. There, the debt amounted to 2,000 euros for 5 books from a public library that were lost due to the eviction. The single mother of four eventually paid off the debt to the last cent through collective debt settlement and through years of poverty while working full time. The program shows how the debt industry remains unchecked even today. Because of all these additional costs, many people are not even able to pay the actual debt. The result is that the debtor is left with his debt, which only increases. He or she most often pays a portion of the interest. The creditor does not pay his debt and the record continues to impose additional costs. We’re not even talking about people with survival debt, “direct customers.” These are the low-income people who have to borrow to meet their basic needs. For them, the situation is completely hopeless, especially with the current debt industry crushing any hope of a debt-free life.
The quality of debt counseling often leaves much to be desired
Unfortunately, Lucinda’s story is not an isolated case. The Anti-Poverty Network recently organized a forum day under the slogan “A decent living income, even if you have debts!” One working group focused on the quality of existing debt advisory services. This also showed that a lot often goes wrong, both with CPAS public services and with private debt brokers. This is how an expert in the field of poverty reacted: “Going to the OCMW was a very big step. I myself searched for a long time for a solution because I was ashamed. In the end I had to take the step for my son. I went to the budget department At OCMW, where I received 60 euros a week as a living allowance. It was absolutely not possible to beat that, but there was no understanding of my situation.”
Bad experiences with debt counseling services are common
There are often significant differences between debt brokers. Some show an understanding of people’s conditions and give decent money for a living, others do not give at all. It is inaccessible and an obstacle to people seeking help. “Within the collective debt settlement I received more live money than when I was working in the budget department at OCMW. This was just about the fact that the OCMW social worker had a different view, so I felt like I wasn’t being listened to. In the group debt settlement, it was taken into account that sometimes I wanted to buy a gift for my child and wanted to save some money for emergencies,” an expert from the Anti-Poverty Network testifies.
Debt counseling is often very difficult to access
Often there are long waiting lists and, moreover, the existing debt brokerage services are only willing to provide assistance to people who already have a financial basis. An experienced expert testified: “I work part-time because I cannot work full-time because of my illness. As a result, I have a low income. When I knocked on OCMW’s door, I was told that they could not help me because I still had enough savings. I only have these savings because I had to sell My house to make ends meet. So I first have to collect all my savings before I get help. Now I can already see misery coming, but I can’t count on any help or guidance.”
Help people get out of a hopeless situation
Abuses in the debt industry are a very worrying trend. Asking for help quickly before plunging into a desperate debt spiral is the best way to avoid poverty. Services should help people get straight rather than building in additional barriers. Legislation and regulations could also be improved. The network demands that interest be discontinued, that additional costs (demand) be legally further reduced, standards of support for a minimum decent living money be introduced, etc. We are asking different governments and policy levels to take responsibility in this regard. The fact that there is a proposal on the table within the federal government to effectively put bailiffs under the oversight of the FPS economy and (more importantly!) to put an end to the interests is not too early.
Not only the person with debt loses, but society as well
If the current debt counseling services start to help people only after they have already entered the debt spiral, not only will it be very difficult for the people involved but the community will lose out as well. Debt takes a heavy toll on human suffering, and in the long run children grow up in years of poverty and longer and more intense help is needed. So there is also a serious social cost. Rapid Intervention ensures less complex files, reducing waiting times for services. It will also ensure that the extra interest doesn’t accumulate as quickly, so the bailiff has to knock on the door less quickly. And the Last but not least: It causes much less stress and embarrassment for families with financial problems because debts are kept under control.
Heidi Dejrix is generallyThink of the coordinator of the Flemish Network Against Poverty†