By Max Clarke
UK Bankruptcy Limited (UKB), which was based in Dorset, but incorporated in Edinburgh, attracted clients through advertising and referrals from another official looking website called ‘IVA Council’. The investigation found the company derived the majority of its income from fees charged to clients who used UKB to make themselves bankrupt. The fees, often running into thousands of pounds, bore no correlation to the work undertaken or the extent of the clients’ level of debt. The advice given was often very basic and could easily have been obtained for free.
In some cases the fees charged to clients’ credit cards rolled into the ensuing bankruptcy whilst the amount of fees appeared to equate to the amount of credit still available on their cards. This action meant that, in effect, the clients’ creditors were funding the company’s fees with no prospect of repayment. The investigation also found evidence that some clients allowed the company to maximise the amount of fees charged to their cards, in return for which they were given “cash back”.
Between about October 2007 and June 2008 the core business of UKB was generated by leads provided by an organisation called the IVA Council (IVAC), an unincorporated association which purported to be a voluntary independent body that monitored the insolvency industry. In reality IVAC was a marketing tool that generated leads for UKB by suggesting to individuals that they had been “mis-sold” an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) and they would be better placed financially by petitioning for their own bankruptcy. Clients referred via the IVAC were almost invariably persuaded by the UKB to discontinue an existing IVA and enter into bankruptcy.
Commenting on the case, Stephen Speed, Chief Executive of The Insolvency Service said:
“At a time when finances are so tight for so many people it is regrettable that a business like UK Bankruptcy Limited should use dishonest practices to exploit the demand for debt advice for its own financial gain. I hope the action we have taken will serve as an important reminder to anyone in debt; good quality advice is freely available from charitable organisations. In addition our publication ‘In debt: dealing with your creditors’ provides an overview of the personal insolvency options.”