Few could have failed to have been moved by the plight of Sumera Hasan, a single mother-of-four whose Dh30,000 loan to pay for the safe delivery of her twins five years ago mushroomed into an insurmountable debt of Dh90,000. Ms Hasan was the victim of circumstances which could happen to anyone. She and her husband lost their jobs and he then abandoned her, leaving her to chisel away at a mountain of debt, to little effect. The endless calls from debt collectors left her feeling tortured, she said. It was only when in desperation she wrote to The National's Debt Panel about the hardship she was enduring that the collections team agreed to settle for a repayment of Dh25,000 – and the sum was paid off by a pair of generous readers who were moved by Ms Hasan's story of hardship.
In the final days of Ramadan, the happy ending is a reminder of the spiritual meaning of the holy month, a time when we are urged to think of how we can help others. Ms Hasan's is also a cautionary tale of the ease with which residents in the UAE can get caught up in an ever-spiralling trap of overwhelming debt. The Debt Panel launched two years ago to address an urgent need in a society where the availability of easy credit has lured numerous people into repayments beyond their means. Over that time, it has been inundated with requests for help, which highlight the need for financial literacy and common sense as well as reminding readers of their rights and urging compassion and a sensible approach from moneylenders. Since then, we have seen a more sensible approach from both borrowers and lenders. Earlier this year, a resident who left for the Maldives with a large unpaid debt was given advice on how to restructure it. Last year, a South African cancer patient whose passport had been impounded as a consequence of unpaid debt was given guidance on how to resolve the situation. The panel has dispensed lifechanging advice in numerous instances to people who, despite their best efforts, had found themselves struggling to cope.
The panel has also served as a reminder to lenders that treating individuals with understanding of exceptional circumstances rather than blindly enforcing a blanket policy makes more financial sense, as Ms Hasan's case demonstrates. Awareness is the best antidote to the anxieties of debt – and by leading the conversation on the subject, the Debt Panel is equipping and empowering people to make sound choices and reevaluate their financial decisions.