I have recently been helping a friend, Mrs C, rescue what is left of her equity to prevent her losing everything. Unfortunately, her ex-husband has systematically drained her savings and the equity from two houses. Believing him once and starting again with a smaller house to repay the debts he had created, meant the second time ended in divorce. However, he is the main wage earner and agreed to continue to pay the mortgage payments, as he refused to redeem the mortgage and, as we know, a joint mortgage means he can do that.
Unsurprisingly he didn’t keep up with the payments but ensured he regularly visited the house, mowing the grass, mending fences and intercepting the mail. However, he did slip up and missed a letter sent to Mrs C detailing £16,000 of arrears on top of the mortgage debt because of numerous missed payments. The letter stated that if the lender wasn’t contacted the case would be sent to the litigation department. Distraught and expecting people to arrive and seize the house, she asked for my help. My experience to date has been an eye opener at how easy it is for someone to do this if they know what they are doing. And how difficult it is to find a way out of a situation where you are both joint mortgage holders.
Data protection protects Mr C from Mrs C knowing what he has said or agreed, although the letters regarding the account position are sent to the same address but in separate envelopes. I am surprised that Mrs C never received a phone call from the lender to check she was aware of the situation as she had made no contact with them.
My first step was to gain written permission by email allowing me to speak to the lender on her behalf, only to be told that for security reasons only a faxed letter was acceptable. It took the lender two days before the fax was found and added to the account details.
Numerous phone calls and incorrect information followed. In addition to this, only faxes are acceptable to send documentation through, i.e. formal offer on the house, the ex-husband’s agreement to sell. This form of communication is not very consumer friendly, especially when everyone has email and very few people have access to a fax machine.
Each call involved me having to go through the entire story in addition to the security checks. I had not once been able to speak to the same person and often the notes on their screen were incomplete. The most recent exchange of information meant that I had to read out the latest letter as this was not on the file and the person had to go and to speak to their manager to understand what it meant. Despite the fact the letter had things like phone extensions and reference numbers, it was not traceable.
The reason for this article is not to name and shame the lender but to flag to all lenders that when interest rates rise, the number of people facing financial problems will increase, and if the contact with the lender is anything like my experience they need to go back to the shop floor and review it now. I understand all about processes. We live in a world where processes protect us but with arrears and repossessions, emotion and the end result of losing everything you have, makes people panic. My sense of fair play has made me determined to make sure the correct process is followed and that Mrs C ends up with her equity. Instead of giving up on life, she has been able to continue at work, with some hope of survival and escaping from her ex-husband and the mortgage.
So, if you think going through a divorce is difficult, try divorcing your mortgage – it’s pretty much impossible.