Bankruptcy in the UK

Bankruptcy is a last resort debt resolution in the UK, and still carries with it a stigma.

It is also the debt solution that has the worst affect on your ability to get credit or a mortgage in the future. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction in the area of bankruptcy, so what happens if I declare myself bankrupt?

It is important to note at this point that declaring yourself bankrupt is not something that you should do lightly, and you should seek qualified advice.

A very important point concerns your home if you own it jointly. There may be steps that you can take to sell your share of your home to your partner/another family member which would remove the risk of it being sold. Get specialist advice on this.

You will need to get a form from your local court that you will have to present when you declare bankruptcy. You should also check at this point what the current fees are for declaring yourself bankrupt (485 at the time of writing, or possibly 335 if you are on income support). This form will need to be filled in before you petition for bankruptcy.

Before visiting the court you need to be aware that any bank accounts that you have an interest in will be frozen. You therefore need to make sure that you have enough cash to provide for your basic needs until you are next paid.

You would normally make an appointment at the court to declare yourself bankrupt. In actual fact if you turn up with the correct forms and the payment without an appointment during normal court hours you have to be seen, but normal practice is to make an appointment. You will need to take the bankruptcy fees in cash (no cheques accepted). The court appearance will normally be a formality, and you will then be free of your unsecured debt immediately.

After you are declared bankrupt, all of your bank accounts will be frozen and you will need to attend an interview to talk about your financial situation and the reasons for your bankruptcy. The insolvency service will want to find out whether you have any assets that can be sold to pay money into your bankruptcy. Also, they will go through your budget to see if you can afford to pay any money from your earnings towards your bankruptcy.

All of this detail needs to be discussed with a qualified adviser, but it is worth pointing out one key fact. If you are part of a couple, then the insolvency rules do not apply to your partner, i.e. they cannot insist that your partner pays anything towards mortgage/rent or utility bills etc.

This is very important since if you fill in the forms showing that you pay half of the mortgage/rent this may result in you having a monthly excess. If so, you will be ordered to pay some of this money to your creditors for up to 3 years (continuing after your bankruptcy is discharged). If you don’t have any excess then you will be relieved of any responsibility for paying your creditors when you are discharged, which could be after only 6 months but certainly within a year.

The insolvency service will want to know if you have any assets that can be sold. They will only be interested in high value items such as your home, cars, boats etc. Current practice in the UK is that bankrupt’s homes are very rarely visited to assess whether there are any personal items that can be sold. The time and effort is simply not worth the small amounts of money that would be raised (unless your home is full of antiques).

Your car may be at risk of being sold unless you can prove that you NEED it for work (i.e. you cannot travel to work by public transport).

Once your bankruptcy is discharged (this usually takes less than a year) you will be free to start re-building your debt free life. You will probably find it almost impossible to get unsecured credit for a number of years. Mortgages are more available, but the rates will be higher. It pays to shop around, because the rates on adverse credit loans can vary widely.