Friday 29 March 2013

Letter to Sharon Bowles - losing a home

Dear Sharon,

We are a family of five – a mother, a father and three young children under school-going age.

Both I and my husband put ourselves through college at night, while working during the day.

I have worked consistently since 1992 and my husband has worked consistently since 1991.

My husband was self-employed up until 2009.

My husband has a mortgage and I have a mortgage; both were taken out when we were single people and before marriage.

When my husband’s business started failing, we were down to a single-income family, as opposed to two. Overnight I pretty much knew that we were in trouble.

In 2009, when I knew that we were going to be in trouble, I phoned my mortgage provider and asked if they could look at my file – literally to look at my file on an individual basis and my history with them; they point-blank told me ‘No!’. I told them that we would be in trouble soon if they didn’t – they still refused and said it was not their ‘policy’ to look at files on an individual basis.

Things started slowly initially but gradually the spiralling just got out of control. Simple things, like our little man has at times a terrible time being an undiagnosed asthmatic, or the time the engine broke down in our 12-year-old car – these types of things happened and had to be paid for. 

€1,000 for a new engine; €500 for a special inhaler plus drugs and three doctor visits, plus one visit to Accident & Emergency - to someone with nothing, €1,500 is a lot of money. I tried to renegotiate with my husband’s lender. We were told a few things by officials in Bank of Ireland, some of these being:

  •  My husband should get his wife (me) to get a loan to pay his debt;
  • one of the representatives from Bank of Ireland told him that she could not understand why either my husband or I was worried about his debt as his loans at the time were ‘performing’ – this made no sense to us as we could not pay the debt fully, only the interest; 
  • Another representative from Bank of Ireland told me that I should stop paying my mortgage and pay his instead. 
  • Another representative asked my husband to sell his house, and pay the shortfall back to the bank. This would be a figure of approx €100,000 – how can one pay their mortgage/anything when they have no income, not even a social welfare payment as he was self employed?

I could go on with the different things we have been told but I won’t – I have not got the energy for it and I do not want to bring up old wounds. I’m trying to conserve my energy for our relationship and our children, as they are the most important things – not banks, not houses, not money, not bonds. My life, my quality of life, my children’s lives and their happiness, my husband’s life and his happiness – they are my number one priority, and they always will be.

I used to be worried before, I used to be stressed, so stressed I wasn’t able to sleep for days. I was so bad that my doctor put me on anti-depressants but I now see the wood from the trees. This is my life – this is our life; no bank is going to bully-boy me or my family and kill us. Oh no – no way will that happen. I will not let it. The banks are running people out of this country – approximately 1,000 people every week. I will not let them do that to us.

For a short while, only because we had a small amount of savings combined with my salary, I was able to pay something to my husband’s mortgage, pay part to my mortgage (I had to cover the shortfall on my mortgage repayment as the rental market has lowered the prices of rental properties).

It couldn’t go on. I couldn’t keep the house together, the car filled with petrol to get me to work, the kids ok – I just couldn’t keep doing it.

Gradually, my own mortgage fell into arrears. I can’t sell it – the bank won’t accept the offers I have got. Even if I did sell it there would be another shortfall on this mortgage, of approx €180,000.

For own health we are at the stage where we actually want the banks to take it all – just take it all. We are talking about negative equity debt of €280,000 between the two of us. I am on social welfare – how on earth can I pay this back?? I was hoping that the new Insolvency Bill might help us – in short, it doesn’t. Not one iota.

In effect, I have given up. Now, today, I find myself unemployed, the first time in my working life of 20 years where. I am an unproductive member of society and I don’t want to be living a life like this. 

When one applies for a mortgage one completes a statement of Income & Expenditure. I did this based upon my lifestyle at the time, as did my husband. Not ever, ever, ever, could we possibly have included a loan of €64,100,000,000,000 into that equation, Ireland’s bank bailout bill, or water charges, or property charges, or children’s allowance reductions, or increased VAT, or increased car-taxes, or increased cost of living, or other ‘tax’ increases or wage reductions. It just wasn’t possible to include those 10 years ago.

It is very easy, nearly too easy, to forget that there are people involved here, people’s lives, their children’s lives; it’s very easy to forget all that with the hard and cold business of bonds and of money and of figures.

But this is our reality.
This is our life.

Thank you for taking the time to read our story.

Kind regards,
The Byrne Family