Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

The Debt Panel: 'I owe my sponsors Dh37,000 after quitting my job as a maid and driver'

The Dubai resident, who now cares for her grandchildren, cannot afford the repayments

Illustration by Mathew Kurian
Illustration by Mathew Kurian

I have lived in the UAE for 26 years and had no financial issues until three years ago. In March 2016 I ended up with a big debt from my sponsor. I was working as a driver for a family, who gave me a cash advance of Dh30,000. I needed the money to pay room rent, clear a debt to a friend and send a lump sum home to the Philippines as I’d been out of work for a year before taking on that role.

However, I ended up only working there for three months because the madam used to shout and hit me while I was driving and would sometimes not give me food. They also did not process my visa so when I spoke to the husband, we made an agreement, which I signed, that I could leave and repay them Dh2,000 a month. By then I had already repaid Dh8,000, leaving an outstanding amount of Dh22,000.

I then struggled to find work, but a Filipina secured a sponsor for me shortly afterwards. However three months in and again I started to have issues with my employer. I asked them to let me go, but they said I must pay Dh15,000 to cover the amount they paid the Filipina to find me. I did not know about this payment – it was as if she sold me. Now I cannot find her, as I discovered I did not have her real name, so I had no choice but to agree to the second family’s offer.

I then found a new sponsor and informed them about the Dh15,000; they agreed to repay the other family the amount. However, they said I must work for two years to clear the Dh15,000. I did not finish the contract because they kept asking me to drive people that were not my responsibility. We had an argument and they forced me to leave so once again I was out of work.

Now at 56 I live with my family and look after my grandchildren. My daughter gives me Dh1,500 as a monthly income to take care of her children, which comes with free food and a room.

My issue is that my visa is expiring this month and I still don't have money to pay the Dh22,000 or the Dh15,000. The first family is now demanding the Dh22,000 in one payment and saying if I cannot pay, they will take me to court. I also owe Dh4,000 to friends. I don’t have any loans or credit cards.

I'm not ready to go back to my country. My life is here in UAE and my children need me, however, they cannot help me financially. What can I do? ND, Dubai

Debt panellist 1: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

You have had a run of bad luck but you are only 56. The retirement age in the UAE private sector is 65. If your health is good, then you need to find work. That is the only solution to staying in Dubai, paying off your debts and getting a visa. Your children need to find ways to provide more income as well, even if it means working extra hours. You need to come together as a family to solve this, otherwise you will get sent home or end up in court.

Even if the work is not ideal, knowing why you are working – to pay off your debts, stay in Dubai and help your family — will keep you going through tough times.

Steve Cronin

You used to be a driver – see if you can apply for one of the car fleets that provide taxis to Uber and Careem. Advertise your services as a driver on Dubizzle and elsewhere. It is time to assess what kind of work you are able to do and then get creative. Can you use a computer? There are ways to make money online through fiverr.com and upwork.com, even doing administrative tasks.

Your bad experiences have made you give up on your true capabilities and you are tired. It’s not too late to get back on your feet once more! Even if the work is not ideal, knowing why you are working – to pay off your debts, stay in Dubai and help your family — will keep you going through tough times.

Review the agreements and contracts you signed with the various families. Are they actually legally enforceable? If not, they might not stand up in court. Not processing your visa and hitting you are also offences. If you have any evidence of this, you may be able to use this to dissuade the first family from going to court. The cost of court case is likely to outweigh the Dh22,000 owed anyway.

As you get free food and accommodation, try to build up some savings each month and your children should do likewise. The problem is your visa – you will have 30 days to stay in the country once it runs out – which is why you should focus all your efforts on getting a job.

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

Borrowing money from a sponsor is rarely a good idea as it complicates what should be a professional working relationship. I note also that you have fallen out with all three employers and have to question if this is a coincidence.

If anyone borrows money, no matter from whom, they should repay it so you are legally obliged to repay the family and you signed an agreement to this effect which is likely to stand up in court. In this case, the debt has been passed on, which can happen, so provided signed paperwork is in place, it can be followed up in the UAE legal system if you, as the borrower, defaults.

I have heard of several cases where money has changed hands for a domestic employee, often to clear a liability, but no employee in the UAE should have to repay the cost of hiring them, or their visas. The UAE Government has been very clear about this. That said, there is probably little that can be done about such private agreement.

Unless you find a way of making a payment, the lender is within his or her rights to take action for the recovery of the debt. The consequences of non-payment are serious and can even result in imprisonment if not addressed. As ever, ignoring a problem and making no payment towards it will not make it go away and you need to talk to the people to whom you owe money and come to an agreement as to how it can be repaid. In many cases, people will accept lower regular payments, provided they are maintained.

You owe money so need to find a way of earning an income to repay this. While you may have had poor experiences, that is not sufficient reason to refuse to undertake employment to repay your debts. You really don’t have an option not to work. If your experience as a private driver has been unhappy, perhaps look at employment in a company where there is more regulation and protection for employees.

Debt panellist 3: Rasheda Khatun Khan, founder of Design Your Life

You have two areas that need addressing: Firstly, the debt you owe and secondly how to pay for your visa if you stay.

Starting with what you owe, seek some legal advice to understand where you stand. Some law firms offer free advice, so start there. You can also go directly to the courts and seek legal aid. Take a copy of your agreement between the families. Knowing where you stand can help you work out a repayment plan. Decide how much you can afford to repay every month and use your lawyers to help you secure a plan you know you can commit to.

Also, rethink your current situation. Is your family able to offer more support each month to help you pay for a visa? Can you also find other work? To stay in the UAE, you have to find a way to cover your expenses and put money aside too. Life is full of unforeseen circumstances and when we don't have a plan, it's only a matter of time before we fall into financial distress. Reconsider going home, even if it was temporary. Getting yourself into more debt just to stay when you can't maintain your lifestyle is not a good idea.

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

Updated: September 24, 2019 01:30 PM

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