Bankruptcy too short, say those in the South East

Over half of people in the South East (57%) believe bankruptcy should last longer than a year, according to research by insolvency trade body R3. As attitudes towards bankruptcy hardens, 82% of people in the South East believe that some people take advantage of the bankruptcy system to write off their debts which they built up through reckless spending.

Around two thirds (65%) of respondents in the region think that bankrupts should be treated differently according to their prior spending behaviour and most people could avoid bankruptcy by reining in reckless spending (64% agree).

James Stares, Vice-Chairman of R3’s Southern Committee and Director at Grant Thornton in Southampton, says: “Our bankruptcy regime, lasting only a year, is quite lenient compared to other countries. While no-one is advocating a return to the ‘debtor’s prison’, there is a strong feeling that a debtor’s spending behaviour should be factored into the length of the term of bankruptcy. Perhaps fuelled by stories of celebrity debtors, there is support for a move to distinguish the genuine hardship case from the reckless spender.

“Currently, the actual term of bankruptcy cannot be extended for reasons of reckless or blameworthy behaviour prior to bankruptcy. Although a Bankruptcy Restrictions Order (BRO) can be imposed to extend the restrictions of bankruptcy for between two and 15 years for culpable behaviour, a BRO does not increase the bankruptcy term. This means that any assets acquired by a reckless spender after their 12 month term of bankruptcy, even where they are subject to a BRO, can be retained by that individual rather than helping towards paying back their debts. Only by extending the term of bankruptcy, not just the restrictions, can we really hope to deter reckless spending.”

These findings come at a time when 47% of those in the South East either sometimes or often struggle to make it to payday.

James Stares concluded: “Those who struggle to make ends meet, using credit cards to bridge the gap, or who are considering a payday loan, will have to make some financial sacrifices in order to avoid their debts spiraling out of control and leading to a potential bankruptcy. Our research also indicated a tougher bankruptcy regime would make people more cautious with their spending, although too late to address today’s consumer debt problem. In the meantime, seeking professional advice as soon as possible is the best remedy for concerns over debt.”