DX6516_2905414b[1]“The amount UK consumers owe on loans and credit cards grew by £1.9bn in March 2016, the highest figure in 11 years, driven by a sharp rise in spending on plastic.”    (The Guardian)

If personal debt really is increasing again at a worrying rate, then a growing number of people could soon be facing the stress of a debt crisis.

For anyone facing this kind of problem, debt advisers might say things like this:

  • Don’t ignore the situation. Open the demand letters, make a list of the balances.
  • Always respond to every communication from a creditor. That shows you’re serious about dealing with the situation.
  • Make an offer. Explain if you can’t offer more.

To those basic steps, I’d add another:

  • Always communicate in writing. You’ll have a record of what was said and agreed; and it’s less stressful than dealing with creditors on the phone.

Avoid the phone

Many years ago I was in that situation, when my small business failed and I owed money to 26 creditors. Negotiating with all of them took a long time but eventually I came through it without permanent scars on my sanity (as far as I know).

I always negotiated in writing, never on the phone.

Dealing with a creditor on the telephone is stressful. My voicemail took a lot of the strain (what a great invention, whether you have an actual machine or a service from your phone provider) but if a creditor left a message I always responded … in writing.


One of the complications that I occasionally encountered was the involvement of intermediaries. Some were bogus law firms which were actually departments of the creditor company, with stationery designed to give the impression of being a genuine law firm, in order to intimidate.

When dealing with intermediaries of any kind, I was always extra-polite, working on the assumption that they hadn’t been fully informed, so I would write things like: “maybe you don’t know, but in the letter of so-and-so from your client …” and I’d enclose or attach a copy of the previous correspondence.

Not keen on writing letters? Help is available!

You might say that writing letters (or emails) is not your strong point. That’s no problem, because lots of debt management organisations can help you. For example, here in the UK, Citizens Advice Bureaux are all over the country and their advice is free and impartial. They helped me greatly. The other major nationwide debt advice charities are StepChange and National Debtline. There are also many local not-for-profit advice providers: for example in Bristol, where I live, there’s Talking Money. There’ll be one near you.

Buying time: it helps your negotiation

The other benefit of working with one of the debt advice charities, or any adviser, is that it creates a little distance between you and the creditor and it buys you some time. So, if a creditor calls you rejecting your offer and gives you a counter-proposal, you can say (politely, of course!) “thank you; but could you put that in writing, please, because I have to refer it to my advisers.”

Letter templates

Templates for standard letters / emails are available from some of the organisations I mentioned above. You can also find templates in my book Back to the Black.

Want to know more?

This article is an extract from my book Back to the Black … how to become debt-free and stay that way.



Privatisation of previously state-owned utilities or other essential services is claimed to bring in lots of investment as well as private-sector efficiency. However, the return on capital by the UK’s privatised train operating companies in 2012 (the last year for which the collated data is available) averaged 147%, which implies high profits and / or low investment. Continue reading


Payday lender Wonga has increased its APR by 1600%! It was already eye-wateringly high; it’s now 5853%, according to The Guardian.

That’s prompted lots of media attention and calls for increased regulation. No surprise there.

Simon Read has campaigned extensively on this. In his recent piece in The Independent , he says we don’t need to ban payday loans, just ensure that anyone taking one out should have chosen to do so, rather than “being flogged a deal they can’t afford.”

How do we ensure that? Anyone contemplating such a risky step should get good and impartial advice about their options; and should take a little time before deciding, instead of being rushed into a decision. However, these loans are by definition emergency loans: the borrower either has, or thinks they have, no alternative and no time.

I would never recommend payday loans; but banning them or capping rates would remove, or at least limit, a finance source that for some borrowers and some situations might be the only alternative. More and better advice is probably the answer.


See some of my previous blog posts on this thorny subject:







Housing associations join private market … “to fund affordable rents”

We know that house prices in London are astronomical; and rents are similarly sky-high. But a new development might bring some relief to hard-pressed renters.

The top fifteen housing associations in London plan to join the private property market in order to help ‘generation rent’ – the people unable to buy or to afford those high rental costs.

They will build 13,000 new affordable homes; but will also let and sell properties at market rates to fund those affordable-home projects.

These housing associations say they want to extend their social housing mission to help the growing number of people who cannot afford to buy in the capital and are “vulnerable to exploitation from unscrupulous landlords.”

13,000 new affordable homes

This so-called G15 group, which houses one in 10 London residents, will build 13,000 affordable homes by 2015 – and will also provide an additional 4,000 properties for rent at market prices and at least 1,100 homes for sale at regular London prices. They will use the profits of the latter to fund the former.

Housing associations have traditionally focused solely on affordable housing for low earners and for key workers. The new strategy is a widening of their scope.

Secure tenancies

They also promise to grant more secure tenancies than those available on the private market; and intend to allow tenants to settle down for longer with a plan to “kitemark” label better-quality homes for those who rent.

According to a report by the Guardian, “the average home in London costs more than £400,000. That’s 15 times the median income for Londoners – the highest ratio in Britain. Wages are higher in London of course but not nearly high enough to allow most people to meet their own housing needs … younger people are increasingly priced out of home ownership and find renting takes a growing portion of their salaries. Those without access to capital may become lifetime renters.”

Housing associations insist moving into the private market to capitalise on the increasing rental and sale prices in London will not undermine the social purpose of its members – to provide affordable housing for those who can not meet their own housing needs.

Tenant views on the plan

The move is being welcomed by some tenants and staff working to tackle rogue landlords in the capital. Ben Reeve-Lewis, a tenant liaison officer in south London who also rents privately, said he’d be interested in one of the properties himself. “Housing associations don’t have a great record for speed of repairs, but that pales in comparison against the security they provide. In private rent you never know if you’re going to get home and find a note on the doorstep because the landlord is likely to sell.”

Vincenzo Rampulla, who rents in west London, said the exorbitant cost of market rent was (partly) tied up in letting and management agency fees which could be cut out by social landlords. “A lot of the skills that they have developed in managing housing association stock are really needed in the private rented sector,” he said.



For more details of the G15 plan, click HERE.

For advice on how to deal with rent arrears, consult Citizens Advice or get my book: click HERE.



Good old Ryanair! If that particular budget airline didn’t exist, bloggers and stand-up comics would have to invent it. Those guys provide rich pickings, mostly for the ludicrous way they boost their low “headline prices” through add-ons. It’s not the fact of the add-ons (sorry, I nearly called them surcharges, which would have been a mistake, as you’ll learn if you read on); because we are not stupid enough to think we really can be flown to Malaga for 50 pence; or even the amount. It’s the way they are added right at the end of the purchase process; the old inertia strategy.

The end of the purchase is the point when you have spent so long wading through their booking process that you have almost lost the will to live; and then you feel what the hell, you must have a holiday at any price.

Ryanair boss orders a pint

The likeable Scottish comedian Fred MacAulay has a great routine  in which he says he’d like to become a barman in Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary’s local pub: “Pint of Guinness, Michael? That’ll be £1.49. Yes, I know, it seems cheap, doesn’t it? But did you want it in a glass? That’ll be another punt. Did you want a head on it? That’ll be another punt. So you think that’s £3.49? Ah, but did you book it online?”

(I’ve heard other versions of this story, by the way, but it’s the way Fred tells ’em)

OK, I know, they use euros in Ireland nowadays, not punts, but I think the story sounds better this way. And, as they used to say at the News of the World, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Ryanair contempt

Not just their policies, but also their public pronouncements, show Ryanair’s total contempt for their customers, for the media and for consumer watchdogs.

The title of this post is borrowed from an article by Rebecca Rutt in the August edition of “Moneywise”. Her title was “An end to ‘Paying for Paying’ “ and she talks of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) having agreed in July to stop travel companies charging people who pay by debit card. Charging for the use of a credit card is common enough; but to charge for using a debit card might prompt one or both of the Mitchell boys (from East Enders, if you need to know) to ask: “You’re ‘avin’ a larf, ain’t yer?”

A very recent article (9 August) in the Guardian says that the European Commission has decided to investigate this area. Well, maybe.

Ryanair’s sense of humour

And of course “avin a larf” is what Ryanair likes to do; at the expense of its customers and everyone else. Earlier this year, the consumer magazine “Which” lodged a “super-complaint” about this card charge issue but they made the cardinal error of using the word “surcharge”. Here’s the response of Ryanair’s “spokesperson” Stephen McNamara: “Before making super-duper complaints the clueless clowns at ‘Which, Who or What’ magazine should conduct some basic research. Ryanair doesn’t levy any credit or debit card payment ‘surcharges’ “

Of course he’s right … and so are the people at Which. Ryanair calls them administration fees. And if the OFT, or the EU, ever manages to pass any legislation outlawing them (don’t hold your breath and I don’t think it’d be worthwhile), why, they’ll just call them something else.

BA cheaper than Ryanair?

Last week I booked a flight within Europe. So I checked out all this stuff in detail, to the point where I too almost lost the will to live. Ryanair and BA were two of the options, so I went right through the details and terms and conditions. Of course the Brisith Airways headline fare was double Ryanair’s but with BA there were no surcharges, admin fees, supplements etc. When those were added on, Ryanair’s total fare was higher than BA’s.

Guess which airline I booked with … despite my Irish heritage? And do you imagine I’ll get better service when I get on board the BA, compared with the take-it-or-leave it attitude of Ryanair? No prizes for guessing.


Last night, on BBC2’s excellent “Newsnight Review” I saw a live performance of a brilliant song I’d heard before, by Fascinating Aida. That reminded me that they had already said it all about this subject with this song. Here it is, with subtitles in case you might have difficulty with the Irish accents. It’s a must-watch! Click here


Checked baggage fees: Yes, dear reader, as I said above, I nearly booked a Ryanair flight last week. After wading through the 12 different categories of baggage fees, I found that the average cost was  about £30 per bag per flight. So, for example, as a couple with just one bag each we’d have paid an extra £120 for the round trip.

Administration Fee (‘paying for paying’): Ryanair’s website says:  “This fee is charged per passenger/ per one way flight and relates to the costs associated with Ryanair’s booking system. No administration fee applies to bookings paid for by MasterCard Prepaid Debit Card.”

Well that’s all right then; it’s not a surcharge, it’s a fee. When they say “costs associated with ….” at least they don’t make the unjustified claim that their internal costs are anything like the £6 they charge. “Doesn’t seem like much, does it Michael?” … till you find it’s per passenger per one-way flight, even if you make one card transaction for two or more people, round-trip. Sneaky? underhand? I’d say contemptuous.

Yes, I know, some rail booking sites also charge fees for using credit cards (common enough) and debit cards; but in my experience they are smller and they are per transaction, which is more logical.

I was in business long enough to know the old saying “cost is a matter of fact; price is a matter of policy.” So Ryanair charge a greatly inflated “admin fee” because they want to and because they can.

Also from Ryanair’s site:

4.2.2 Taxes, fees and charges imposed on air travel are constantly changing and can be imposed after the date that your reservation has been made. If any such tax, fee or charge is introduced or increased after your reservation has been made you will be obliged to pay it (or any increase) prior to departure. Similarly, if any such tax, fee or charge is abolished or reduced such that it no longer applies to you, or a lesser amount is due, you will be entitled to claim a refund of the difference from us.

(Note: “you will be entitled to claim” …. that’s if you happen to find out before the time limit we specify. Could we at Ryanair credit your card account automatically, if this happens? In your dreams, sunshine.)

The Guardian‘s article on EU investigation:

Moneywise‘s article “Paying for Paying”:

… and finally: that song again!