Cafe Neon’s not so bright future

I have the day off, ostensibly because it is my beloved’s birthday and because I wasn’t sure if we would be celebrating. These days even a minor celebration leaves me feeling distinctly groggy and not in the mood for work so it seemed a good idea.

As it is we didn’t celebrate last night. I had a Quaker Learning session yesterday (see my next Blog) and on Wednesday we had the allotment AGM. So on Tuesday we went for meal at our local Greek restaurant. Cafe Neon is a lovely little place, run by a larger than life character. The credit crunch is taking a serious hit at all the many restaurants in Lytham, and Cafe Neon is no exception. We only go on special days, we cannot afford to go as often as we would like, but I feel that we *ought* to go more often. Mine host has changed the décor, simplified it and is opening for Greek wraps at lunchtime, trying to become a cafe at lunch and a restaurant at night. I admire his tenacity but I felt so sorry for him. We were the only customers all night. He cannot keep three staff on for the whole night at that rate.

The food was, as usual, wonderful: it would be such a shame if he cannot stay open. There are more than enough Italian and Indian and Chinese restaurants in Lytham, but this is the only Greek restaurant. As we walked back we looked in several restaurants – the competition for Cafe Neon – and they were all empty too.

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Scams, frauds and deception.

People in the media often talk about boiler room scams as if they are today’s biggest fraud problem.

Apparently it is usually offshore companies who cold-call well-heeled people with an ‘opportunity’ to buy shares that turn out to be worthless, or worth far less than claimed.  I can understand that this is worrying and that people are being conned out of large amounts of money.

Yet I have never yet heard anyone on the media talk about a particular con that hits people on very low incomes.  I don’t think it has a name, certainly not a media-friendly name like boiler-room scam has.  Perhaps it is not interesting because it hits people who already have had a debt problem.  Perhaps the media think it is not a scam at all, perhaps these people who claim it is a scam are not telling the truth?  Well it is the truth and I know because it has happened to me.

My house was repossessed after I became (through no fault of my own) unemployed.  I co-operated as best I could but I was given less on benefits per month than my mortgage payment had been.  After the repossession, which I did not dispute, I was told by CAB that they had received notification that I owed nothing on the house, and that strangely the house had realised exactly, down to the last penny, exactly what I owed.  I asked for this information to be faxed to me and kept it, and I am glad I did.

I will tell you how the scam works,

Unscrupulous people set up a ‘company’ and then get hold of details of people whose houses have been repossessed, or have had another debt go through court.  I don’t know how they do it, but they get hold of these details somehow. (In my case they found the details of the account number and the name of the company with which the account was held.)

Then they search for the person and find their address (if you have had your home repossessed then you will have changed address) and even I know of various methods of finding an individual’s address.

They then send a letter claiming to be the agent for the company with whom they had the debt.  The individual panics.  Surely the repossession cleared the debt?  Having been thought that experience no-one would want to go to court again.

The letters come on  letter-headed paper, and in my case the address does not tally with the postmark.  I could do a letterhead easily enough.  The threats get more and more worrying.  The latest, which came today, includes a direct debit form and a threat of court action.  It also contains a veiled threat, “if I don’t want to have contact with them” that I will  fill in the direct debit form.  Contact?  Does that mean they will come round here threatening me physically?

I have written to them and told them that I do not owe the money, but still they write, telling me that if it goes to court I will have to take time off work.

This scam has happened to many people, but they are people at the bottom of the heap when it comes to money and power and so the media are not interested.

Yet last week a ‘pensioner’ was scammed out of £35,000 of his money on a ‘get rich quick’ scam and it is headline news in the local paper.  Basically he gambled with money he had sat in a bank account, and though I am sympathetic because he was conned, lied to and told that his money was safe, my sympathy has its limits, because he gambled.  At the other end of society people are being threatened into making payments of several thousands of pounds which they don’t owe, but are too scared of the consequences of not paying up.

It is a protection racket that no-one seems to do anything about, and the media are not interested in.

Housing Market

The latest Government initiatives to revive the housing market, and that is the way that the press are reporting them, worry me.  The initiatives are:

  1. a Stamp Duty holiday
  2. a scheme to give people an interest free loan deposit of 30% to buy ‘hard to sell’ city flats
  3. a new mortgage rescue scheme
  4. decreasing the time that those on benefits have to wait before getting help with mortgage interest.

Obviously only the first two actually help the housing market.  I don’t have a lot of time for ‘the housing market’ or to be precise, one particular mortgage company, and when they hit problems a few months back I found it very difficult to be sympathetic  (in fact I found it hard not to laugh).  I am not in favour of encouraging people to buy houses; especially in times of possible recession.  “Here, buy a house, don’t worry if you get made redundant, your marriage breaks down or you have an accident or a baby and are unable to work”.

The second measure seems even more flawed.  If the reasoning is that people will flock to buy the hard to sell flats, which are falling in value anyway, then I wonder who will lend on them anyway.

What is this obsession with ‘owning property’, anyway?  I keep getting told that it a mortgage is less than rent and gives you something to sell at the end.  Except that for many who were mis-sold mortgages that would pay a lump sum at the end too, they ended up with a debt at the end.  Or you discover that the house you bought has a serious defect, which was not picked up on the survey.  Or you end up losing it through a change in personal circumstances and are treated like low life, as if you were some kind of criminal.  To add insult to injury they send you a mortgage arrears advisor, who doesn’t advise you at all, they are actually employed to help the company decide if you are just refusing to pay or if you are likely to find a job or whatever.  Then they charge you a week and a half’s benefit for the pleasure.

Call me bitter if you like but I have been through the experience of having my house repossessed; and it is no joke.  I tried everything from contacting people how would buy the property and rent it back, but they were not interested, and the local housing office but they said come back when you are homeless (not their fault – they do what they can). Going to court was a nightmare;  the day of the repossession was one of the bleakest days of my life.  It was like a death in the family, and the repercussions of that experience are still with me.

I am very pleased therefore about the measures to help those on benefits – it would have stopped me losing my home, and it is estimated that it will stop that awful, gut-wrenching experience for 10,000 people.  I never realised that I was one of so many.  That so many of our citizens suffer this is appalling!  I might argue that it doesn’t go far enough, two months arrears will still have to be paid.  Still it has to be better than the current system where you are left without any help for 9 months.

Apparently there will also be the option of selling a share to your local council which will mean that you can pay the arrears.

I think, though, that we are going the wrong way about this. We should be increasing properties to rent.  Renting is good.  If the central heating breaks down – not your problem.  These days you enter a contract with your landlord, and you know where you stand and the deposit system has been tightened up to stop those rogue landlords who keep your deposit regardless of the state you left the place in. You pay your rent by direct debit and everything is hunky dory.  Then if you want to move it is much easier – no dependence on the housing market.

I understand (tried to substantiate it but can’t find figures) that Britain has a higher than normal proportion of owner occupiers.  I seems that people feel that renting is only for the chavs.  Well, there is no virtue in having a mortgage, you know!