The Debt Panel: 'How can I pay off my Dh149,000 loan and return to the UAE?'

The former resident returned to India to help his father recover from heart surgery but now faces a travel ban and bounced cheque cases

In 2017, I returned home to India for my annual leave. However, my father became unwell and had to have heart bypass surgery. As the oldest son, my father asked me to stay and help him with his recovery, which took 14 months.

During that time, I was terminated from my job in Dubai, where I had worked for seven years. I did not receive my gratuity from the company and they are still not answering my emails regarding this.

Because of my termination, I was unable to return to Dubai and continue paying off my personal loan of Dh149,000.

In the four years that I have been away from the UAE, I have managed to make about six payments towards the loan but do not know the total amount now owed because of late fees and interest payments. I have not had any contact with the bank’s collection agents.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened our situation and we are struggling financially. I have been trying to return to the UAE to find a job and help my family but I have a travel ban and two bounced cheque fines that total Dh15,000, as well as Dh3,000 in lawyers’ fees to pay.

I cannot afford to pay the fines to lift the travel ban. Can you advise me on how I can pay my debts to the bank and have the fines and travel ban cancelled? Is there an advocate or philanthropist/charity organisation that can help me? WK, India

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

I am sorry to hear that your father’s illness has had a big impact on your career and finances.

It will be a challenge to ensure your gratuity is paid. You could have gone to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, but there is a 12-month deadline for making an initial complaint. Maybe you did this through your lawyer? You could still contact the ministry to see if they have any recommendations.

You need to speak to human resources or the head of the company via phone, preferably, or contact someone who still works there to reach out to them on your behalf. Email will only get stuck, as you have discovered. They may be sympathetic but they may also decide to ignore you, especially if they terminated you “for cause”, such as absconding.

Even if you were paid your gratuity, the bank would take it immediately to pay off some of your loan. This may have happened already if the gratuity was paid and you were not notified of it.

It is going to be hard for you to return to the UAE with a travel ban, especially if it was put in place by the courts for non-payment rather than by your employer for absconding.

Quote
I advise you to call the bank and request to talk to a senior employee and explain your situation, which should start a negotiation between you and the bank for a better payment plan
Philip King, head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

Being blacklisted against employment by onshore companies may not prevent you from finding a job with a free zone company. However, a ban on entering the country will make finding any new job difficult.

Do you need to return to the UAE right now? There are many other countries across the GCC that may have employment opportunities for you. You need a job – that is how you will be able to pay off the bank, pay the fines, cancel the ban and ensure you are back on your feet again.

You can ask on UAE Facebook pages if there is any charity that can provide you assistance, although I imagine many others could be making similar requests.

The standard advice would be to contact your bank to see if you can work something out with them. However, if you do not have a source of income or cash right now, there is not much to discuss. First, focus on finding employment in whatever way you can and wherever in the world, then you can pay your debts.

Debt panellist 2: Philip King, head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

It saddens me to hear of the position you are in but I urge you not to lose hope. To tackle the problem at hand, it is important to put a comprehensive action plan in place to address each issue you are currently facing.

As a first step, it is important to establish transparent communication with your bank as a lack of contact can aggravate your situation further.

I advise you to call the bank and request to talk to a senior employee and explain your situation, which should start a negotiation between you and the bank for a better payment plan.

Ideally, a payment plan that offers lower interest on payments spaced throughout a reasonable period would further help in alleviating your burden.

As for the travel ban, you may have to pay the penalties for this to be lifted. I advise that you seek help from a legal expert who can give you proper advice.

Finally, I recommend that you review your current financial situation to determine what can be done to establish a solid financial footing.

To do so, it is vital that you keep track of what you have been spending on, determine whether it is something expendable and eliminate it if deemed necessary.

As for your finances, you would have to seek other ways to increase your income, which can be done by either finding a part-time, full-time or freelance job, or even liquidating your assets. In addition, you could also seek financial help from friends and family to help you deal with your debt.

Debt panellist 3: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

Unfortunately, your situation is a common one in recent times. The first step to take is to find clarity on your debt situation.

Your outstanding balance will have grown significantly due to late payment fees and compounding interest. You need to know how much you owe so you can make a plan to resolve the issue.

Contact your bank and ask for confirmation of the outstanding loan balance. The only way out of this situation is to repay your loans, as well as the fines and penalties issued against you.

Banks are often willing to negotiate on the balance due and agree to a repayment schedule when you show willingness and an ability to repay the debt.

Coming back to the UAE is not advisable until your debts are repaid and the travel ban is lifted. Finding employment in India would be wiser. Keep your costs low and focus on paying your debts as quickly as possible.

Regarding your gratuity, under the Labour Law, an employee is entitled to immediate payment of their gratuity upon termination, unless the employee is terminated for gross misconduct.

If your termination was not due to gross misconduct, you can file a complaint at the Labour Office and then pursue legal proceedings in the Labour Court.

Often, this will prompt the company to pay the amount owed to you. This will be paid into your UAE bank account and the bank will probably use the funds as payment towards your debt.

It is worth reaching out to the Indian Embassy in the UAE to ask if they can recommend a charitable programme for people in your situation.

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: November 3rd 2021, 10:34 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS