Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

Thirty-eighth American vice president Hubert Horatio Humphrey once said, "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously" and despite many years of women's the best efforts to attain both, today, on International Woman's Day, I continue to battle with HBOS without the benefit of either. 

Working my way up in the UK's financial service industry throughout the 80's and 90's, it did not occur to me that one day my gender would not only make me invisible but also prohibit me from being heard. Now, some twenty years later, as a result of my extensive communications with HBOS, it has become uncomfortably clear that as a married women, I should not have expected to enjoy the same right to information about the status of my residential mortgage as my husband. Not knowing this has cost me my home, my health and my financial future.

Furthermore this"too big to fail" banking giant Halifax Bank of Scotland is far from coy about it's anti-female stance and instead are more than happy to put, in writing, they have no obligation to discuss arrears on joint borrowings, debt advice and court proceedings with me as long they have discussed them with my husband. So, ladies be warned, this means your lenders will effectively support your husbands if they choose to keep financial difficulties from you  and you could, like me, find the banks are forcing a sale on your homes without giving you the opportunity to find out why they would wish to do so in the first place.

According to the Bank of Scotland's complaints department, they are under no contractual obligation to discuss any aspect of a mortgage with all the named parties on the loan and although government initiatives have publicly urged them to give people in difficulties debt counselling before legal action is taken, this is merely a guideline which a lender may, or may not, chose to abide by. Nothing more. In short HBOS do not consider it their role to include all parties to a mortgage in discussions concerning forcibly repossessing a family home and no regulator has the power to make them. Nor will banks who chose to flaunt regulatory codes and guideslines be penalised.

Sadly, I only became aware of these facts once the repossession process had already begun. It was only then that I discovered my husband had been unable to bring himself to divulge the unpalatable truth about our financial situation to anyone, let alone me. Remarkably, I could have remained in the dark even longer had I not become suspicious and beaten him to the post one day only to discover
 his property business had failed, our business bank had gone into administration, the bank of |Scotland were taking us to court  to repossess and, to my absolute horror, we were £27,000 and eight months in arrears. Little more than two weeks later a possession order was granted to HBOS for our lovingly restored sixteenth century tithe barn and home of ten years and there was nothing I could do about it.

However, it didn't stop me trying.

Desperate to address the problem the moment I became aware of our position, I soon secured a tenant to cover the interest payments on mortgage. However, the Bank of Scotland refused to allow me to save my home with rental income on grounds it was too late. Instead they insisted I accepted a forced sale offer of well below market value and in doing so turned our sizable £27,000 into a staggering mortgage shortfall of £217,000. Now I am reliably informed by their solicitor I must conjure the shortfall from out of thin air and, despite numerous letters from the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) explaining we are financially finished, (a situation HBOS were wholly aware of well before they issued proceedings) my instructions are to produce a solution within seven days.

Outraged at the callous and unprofessional attitude of this calculated example of sexist banking avarice, it beggars belief the untouchable Bank of Scotland are also happy to state that married women do not count when it comes to providing them with information and making decisions about their homes when their mortgage accounts get into difficulties. 

I still strongly suspect I could have rescued my home had I been given the opportunity, but as a married woman, I was denied the chance to try. Now, nearly two and a half years on, the Bank of Scotland are more than happy to grant me equal rights to my joint and severally liable shortfall but remain deaf and blind to the fact that by failing to keep me informed, it was they who created the shortfall in the first place. It for this reason I say to each and every banksters who played a pivotal role in the financial downfall of both myself and no doubt numerous other married women, 

"How will you be marking International Women's Day?" because, I for one, plan to mark it by fighting back!

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