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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

The Debt Panel: 'I left the UAE without paying Dh170,000 in loans but the banks won’t help me return'

The former Dubai resident went home to South Africa in 2015 after losing her job but despite receiving a job offer, she cannot take it up due to a legal case

Illustration by Mathew Kurian
Illustration by Mathew Kurian

I returned home to South Africa in February 2015 after being forced to leave Dubai by my former employer when my contract was terminated. At the time I was earning Dh15,000. I am trying to resolve my debt situation (I owe Dh170,000) from here but it seems that when a person leaves debt behind it is automatically assumed that he/she absconded and the banks refuses to negotiate an amicable solution. I base this observation from the reply I received from a well-known law firm when I asked for legal help. They advised me that my only option was to proceed with a settlement. I have now written to the chief executive of the bank concerned and to the bank's customer care department, asking why the bank pursues such a relentless and non negotiable approach towards customers that default on outstanding debt. I have tried to get the bank to drop the legal case against me as by doing so it would allow me to secure a work permit and enter the UAE to repay my outstanding liabilities. I even secured a job in the UAE at one point with a good salary of Dh20,000 and the company's HR manager contacted the bank's collections department to negotiate with them but the bank refused. I have been unemployed for two-and-a-half years as a result of this. From being in a position to repay to having zero prospects, what are my options now? SS, South Africa

Debt panellist 1: Kunal Malani, head of customer value management at HSBC

Whenever circumstances change, for example income reduction or loss of employment, it is best to contact your creditors immediately to discuss your situation and together work on suitable repayment arrangements. If not addressed in a timely fashion, late charges can accumulate and the account can move into default with the balance due in full. As you are aware, this then leads to some undesirable consequences.

You have made the right decision to contact your lender and proactively work towards a resolution. It is in the best interest of both parties to reach a positive outcome. Remember to communicate your intent to repay the obligation and always be transparent about your financial circumstances to reach the right arrangement, for example, provide the lender with all necessary documentation to evidence your financial situation. If you are unable to agree on a repayment solution at this time, you can also consider finding a job in your current location to save and repay your loan and improve your overall financial situation.

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Debt panellist 2: Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets

I am pleased to see that SS wants to do the right thing by repaying the debt. I am aware that banks are frequently not particularly helpful if a customer has left the UAE with debts. This is largely due to the fact that every year large numbers of people leave without paying back what they have borrowed, and without any intention of doing so, which leads to banks being suspicious and expecting the worse. As far as they are concerned, SS left without repaying and, depending on the credit agreement, may even be in breach of the terms signed when taking out the loan or credit card simply by no longer being in employment here.

I assume that SS has not been making regular payments since leaving the UAE. Assuming SS has not, she will find the bank less amenable than if she had been making the contractual payments. If three or more payments are missed, whether someone is in the UAE or not, the bank has the right to register a police case for non-payment of debt. This can lead to imprisonment and certainly arrest on re-entering the UAE.

Assuming no payments have been made since leaving, I am not surprised the bank is requesting settlement of the debt and this will again be in accordance with the terms.

Unless at least part of the outstanding debt is settled, no bank will withdraw a police case. A customer who is in debt must show willingness by making a payment as they are the one who has breached the terms of the agreement. I would not expect any bank here to be particularly helpful on the basis of a job offer alone. Whilst SS feels the bank is acting unfairly, she has missed payments so they will argue that she is the one who needs to take the first step.

Whilst SS intends to pay the debt once she has a job, it is currently a “chicken and egg” situation and she cannot re-enter without having reduced the amount outstanding at the very least. If she does not have the funds to do this, or any assets to sell, then returning to the UAE will not be an option and she will need to find employment in another country. This would allow her to recommence payments and reduce down the debt, thus placing her in a stronger position to negotiate at a later date.

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Read more:

The Debt Panel: British couple struggling to shift 'niggly' Dh80,000 credit card debt

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Debt panellist 3: Michael Routledge, the founder of the debt advice site savememoney.ae

You are correct in thinking that the banks will treat your case no differently than any other ‘absconding’ case, however it is surprising they will not negotiate with you as they really have everything to gain if you are allowed to return to Dubai to work and service the debt.

If the banks are unwilling to discuss repayment options with you it may be worthwhile speaking to a third party that has relationships with the banks you currently have debt with. This service comes with a fee, however it may be money well spent if it can resolve your case. My website does not affiliate with any of the UAE’s debt management firms, however I have spent time with Gaurav Bhalla, chief executive of Lotus Loans and Reschedule Services, who has had success helping people with debt issues.

If you can find a job in South Africa and are successful in arranging a repayment plan then it would be a good idea to start making payments from South Africa, assuming you want to come back to Dubai at some point in the future. This should go some way to improving your relationship with your lenders and hopefully they will agree to remove any police cases they’ve opened against you in time.

Should you decide to come back to Dubai I’d make sure you have confirmation in writing from all lenders that they have no current police cases open against you.

On this panel this week: Kunal Malani, head of customer value management, UAE and Mena at HSBC Middle East; Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets and Michael Routledge, the founder of the debt advice site savememoney.ae.

The Debt Panel is a weekly online column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae.

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