For Mr B, the hearing at Peterborough County Court was the last chance saloon. Lose his case and he would lose his home, too. For Dave Frost, a debt expert from the Citizens Advice Bureau’s Court Desk service, it was another chance to help someone in desperate need.
Mr B’s was one of 15 mortgage repossession cases listed for that day. He arrived, anxiously clutching his court papers. The court usher brought him over to the private room where Dave had set up shop.
They discussed how the debt on the mortgage had come about. Mr B explained that he hadn’t been able to afford the payments because of a family illness and the fact that he hadn’t been able to work for some time.
Dave went through all Mr B’s income and outgoings in fine detail. It emerged that Mr B was shortly returning to work and could afford his regular payments with some top-up to cover the arrears. He was keen to clear the debt as soon as he could but Dave stressed that the payments had to be realistic: if they were missed and Mr B failed to stick to any agreement, he could still lose his home.
The lender’s agent then arrived. The situation was discussed again and they agreed in principle that Mr B would make his normal mortgage payments plus a bit extra over a period of time to cover the arrears.
It was time to meet the judge. Dave handled the whole negotiation, explaining the situation and putting forward the repayments offer that had been agreed. That was confirmed by the lender’s agent. Mr B didn’t have to say a word.
Within minutes the judge endorsed the agreement. He told Mr B that he was giving him a Suspended Possession Order, meaning that if he kept to the agreement and maintained the regular payments, no action would be taken. However, he warned that if he didn’t pay, he might lose his home.
And that was that.
Mr B said: “I was so relieved. I’d been trying to balance everything out with my money and I’d been struggling. Then I got the papers to come to Court. I desperately wanted to keep my home for myself and my family, so I decided the best thing to do was to go along.
“I hadn’t heard about Court Desk and the service CAB offers there. I was surprised by how informal the whole thing was - no wigs or gowns or having to stand in the dock. Just going along and meeting Dave and the agent relieved the pressure. It was nothing like as intimidating as I thought and it was all very quick.
“I wish I’d known about the service before, I’m so glad I went - if I hadn’t, I’d have lost my home.”
Dave said: “We’re here to help. While we obviously can’t guarantee a successful outcome every time, we’ll always do our best for you and we’ll be honest if we think your situation is not salvageable. But we’ve had lots of success, so we encourage people to contact us as soon as they know they’re struggling with their finances.”