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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plans to widen debt relief scheme

DRO eligibility to be amended

The Government today announced plans to make more people eligible for a debt relief scheme that allows individuals to write off unaffordable debt. The Debt Relief Order (DRO) was introduced in April 2009 and has been dubbed 'bankruptcy lite' - debts are written off in the same way as in bankruptcy, but the DRO is designed for people with very low value assets and little spare income after living expenses, where the full rigour of bankruptcy is unnecessarily cumbersome. Effectively, it is a way for over-indebted consumers to remove the burden of crippling debt that can never realistically be repaid. The idea is to draw a distinction between cases where debt is disputed or where the debtor may be able to repay but chooses not to, and cases where the debt is not in any doubt and nor is the fact that the debtor will never be able to repay it.

The main criteria for a DRO is debts of less than £15,000, surplus income after reasonable living expenses of less than £50 per month and total assets worth less than £300 (not including a car which may be worth up to £1,000). This makes a DRO available to a slender but statistically significant group of over-indebted individuals.

The plans unveiled today are to exempt pension plans from the asset cap. Previously, having a pension would mean that a debtor would fail the low asset requirement (assuming that the pension fund is worth more than £300.) As almost all pension policies are 'locked away' for use in retirement and aren't available for paying debts, it seems fair to exempt pensions from the equation. In addition, the Government is firmly entrenched in a policy of encouraging everyone to save for their retirement. It therefore makes sense to amend the criteria in a way which will have little effect on the likelihood of creditors recovering their debts.

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