I left Dubai at the end of 2009 after working there for just under two years as an entertainment operations manager for a mall. During my time in Dubai, I took out four credit cards, a personal loan and a car loan, as well as having written rental cheques.
It wasn’t my original intention to leave – my father was very ill and I requested to go home to see him. However, because it was Eid and the mall was busy, my general manager rejected my leave request. It was important for me to see him, so I booked a flight and flew home. He passed away just one week after I arrived home.
When I planned to return, my colleagues in Dubai warned me that I was going to lose my job for going home to see my father. At this point, I did my research and decided that it was better for me to cut my losses and stay in the UK as I was afraid that without a job in Dubai, I wouldn’t be able to pay my debts and end up in jail.
During the first year, I tried to communicate with the banks but they were not interested. I even transferred money to a friend to pay them on my behalf. At the time, I didn’t have a job in the UK, and had no savings or assets.
Since then, I have been harassed by collection agencies, who have called my workplace in London, faxed letters to my directors, and called my family and wife, which is how she found about my debts in the UAE.
I have offered to pay the banks what I can with instalments – not to the collection agencies. The problem is that whatever I have offered, they have rejected it and then the abuse from the collection agencies begin again. It has been a terrible time but thanks to my wife and I being able to talk about my problems, I was able to get back on track.
I am currently paying monthly instalments to one of the banks, which is positive. If another bank had accepted my monthly instalment offer in 2010, this would now have been paid off. In total, I owe Dh412,756 to four different banks, which include excessive interest charges.
I would appreciate your advice on how I can put an end to these 11-year-old debts. The banks and collection agencies aren't listening to me and now that I've lost my job due to Covid-19, I fear it will get worse. Is there a limit in the UAE on how long a debt can be collected? MG, UK
Debt panellist 1: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com
You have seen the dark side of debt and I’m glad that your wife has been supportive through difficult times. It’s worth pointing out the root cause of the problem, if only to help others who may fall into a similar situation. You exposed yourself to considerable risk by taking out four credit cards and a personal loan. It made you vulnerable to any unforeseen event that would prevent your regular salary coming in, and this is exactly what happened with your father and an uncooperative boss.
You have a number of avenues in Dubai and the UAE to try. First, you need to document your interaction with all four banks and try to talk to them one last time. Aim to contact the most senior person you can find, whether through LinkedIn or your friends. Go to them with a plan but also make it clear that you are not going to accept them ignoring you or refusing to cooperate with you. If talks break down, be sure to let them know that you intend to complain to the Central Bank of the UAE.
Next, talk to the Central Bank's Consumer Protection Department and see if they have any recommendations. They may agree that the banks have been unreasonable. They may also be able to guide you through the new insolvency proceedings in the UAE. However, going through the UAE courts may require returning to the country and this is probably not recommended. You should also consult a legal firm in the UAE that specialises in people with debt problems.
As the UK is outside the banks’ jurisdiction, they will either use a collection agency or use a UK-based agent of the bank to get their money back from you. You therefore have access to the full range of UK debt and insolvency support options, even if the debt originated in another country. These include bankruptcy, an Individual Voluntary Arrangement, a Debt Management Plan or a Debt Relief Order. There are a range of organisations that will support you, including the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Debt panellist 2: Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com
In various countries, there is a defined time limit beyond which debts become legally irrecoverable. In the UK and US, this limitation period is set at a maximum of six years. According to the UAE's Civil Law, this debt recovery period is believed to be 15 years. So after 15 years from the last date of activity on a loan or outstanding credit card account, the bank cannot take advantage of legal recourse to recover the debt.
However, that does not mean that the debt ceases to exist. This does leave a bit of a grey area that may allow the lender to employ debt collectors who can still chase you to recover much older debts, and a police case can still be filed against you. If the bank files a police case, you face the risk of being arrested and detained if you travel to the UAE or pass through the country on a layover.
Now, coming to the issue of being harassed by debt collection agents. Unfortunately, debt collectors have come under the scanner too often for using aggressive tactics and threats to recover money from borrowers. You can complain to the bank about the harassment you're being subjected to from such recovery agents. But the only way to make this problem go away for good is to find a way to negotiate a debt settlement with the bank.
If you can manage to hire a local legal representative in the UAE, you'd be able to access your credit report and chase the banks and credit card providers to obtain your credit card records and repayment history. This would allow you to know exactly how much you owed originally versus what's the interest and penalties that have accrued over the years. Your legal representative can then find a way to get you a more reasonable settlement by negotiating with the bank on your behalf, and help wipe the slate clean for you.
Debt panellist 3: R Sivaram, executive vice president, head of retail banking products, Emirates NBD
You have gone through challenging times and faced a series of unfortunate events that have led to the current situation.
I am glad that you are being conscientious and wanting to work towards settling your past debts. As a first step, I would recommend that you reach out to all the banks concerned directly to get a clear understanding of your dues. You should earnestly express your intention to settle the debts and negotiate a feasible repayment plan with each of them.
Given that you are keen to repay the outstandings, I am confident that the banks would support you in building appropriate plans that can be accommodated within your repayment capacity, especially given the current Covid-19 scenario.
It is also important that you try and find employment at the earliest, as having a regular income will be key to servicing the repayment plans. I would also suggest that you explore disposing of any personal assets that can help in paying off part of the debts and reduce the monthly repayments you would need to make.
I wish you the very best with finding a new job quickly and in improving your financial situation.