Time to get personal

And by all expert predictions, the increase is likely to carry on over the next year and even jump once new personal insolvency laws make it easier to push through a bankruptcy relatively unscathed.

But an even more worrying aspect is that the number of insolvency practitioners specialising in personal bankruptcy barely reaches double figures. Very few people choose to deal mostly with people, not companies. High-profile specialists like Louise Brittain, who took care of Jonathan Aitken and is currently chasing the Hamiltons for creditors’ money, and David Coyne, who dealt with celebrity chef Keith Floyd’s money problems, are the exceptions that prove the rule.

The trouble seems to spring from the fact that personal insolvency is regarded as the ‘poor relation’ in the insolvency world, less sexy and not as well paid. Bankruptcies are often very difficult, with uncooperative bankrupts whom the trustee often ends up chasing.

They involve delving into somebody else’s mess and trying to sort out their finances. And they can often turn unpleasant as divorces and other family problems surface.

Also, there is no specific qualification for bankruptcy experts. To develop as a personal insolvency specialist, IPs specifically go after cases and learn on the job. In terms of numbers and on paper, dealing with a company going to the wall and a person being unable to pay up is theoretically the same, but in practice it requires a different set of skills.

There is also a very emotional side to bankruptcy. You go through someone’s personal affairs and even have to read their post. Trustees often have to deal with people whose lives are in tatters and need counselling. The bottom line is you are dealing with a human life, not a legal entity.

You cannot sell a person’s life – in its entirety or in bits.

But with the rise in bankruptcies, the institutes and professional bodies will have to take on the difficult task of promoting personal insolvency. Perhaps there is even a need for a specific bankruptcy qualification.

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