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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Debt company folds

In the latest in our series about debt and crippling interest rates, Working Lunch's Virginia Eastman has been to the North East of England.

Gibson Barkess, a Newcastle debt consolidation company, has recently gone bust. A note on the door says the company has gone into voluntary liquidation.

That means that many of the company's 800 clients are now left totally in the dark about the state of their debts.

Consolidation

Tania Gibson works for a supermarket chain stacking shelves.

About four years ago her spending got out of control and she found herself in debt to the tune of 5,000 and decided to do something about it.

She registered with Gibson Barkess for a fee of 295. They worked out a repayment schedule for her of 23 per week for 30 months.

But since they went under she has no idea what she has paid and what she still owes.

"I haven't a clue what to do next," says Tania, "I'm disgusted."

She's now getting demands from her original creditors.

Worried customers

The money was collected at offices in the St Peters Marina area of Newcastle. The rent has been paid but the offices now lie empty.

David O' Brien from Newcastle City Council has been dealing with many of the 200 Gibson Barkess customers who've been in touch with the local trading standards office.

He has seen how easy it is to set up a debt collection agency and thinks that more regulation is needed.

"The only thing they need is a consumer credit license," says David.

"There should be more regulation so that if anything happens to the business, customers will be protected. Anyone can get a license if they don't have a criminal record."

No records

Another customer, who wishes to remain anonymous, consolidated 13,500 worth of debt with Gibson Barkess to be paid back over five years.

When he heard that the company was no longer operating he contacted all of his creditors.

To his amazement, only a tiny amount of his debt has been paid off, despite having handed over more than 5,000 to Gibson Barkess.

He now owes 21,000, and he's got no statements or documentation to show how this has added up.

Black hole

Local trading standards investigators are waiting to find out exactly how much money is involved and could be left still owing with the demise of Gibson Barkess.

It will only become apparent just how much of the debt was ever paid off as the creditors try to reclaim the money owed.

A Northumbria police spokesman confirmed that they were aware of the company.

"We are making enquiries as to whether offences have been committed," the spokesman said.

The outcome of their enquiry will be known shortly.

If you are a client of Gibson Barkess and are concerned, you are advised to contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Newcastle Trading Standards.

If you have any experiences of debt that you'd like us to look into, please get in touch

SEE ALSO:
How can I manage my debt?
12 Feb 03  |  Business
Escaping the debt trap
08 Jan 02  |  Consumer


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