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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2007, 01:28 GMT
Farepak victims still suffering
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Closed gates at Farepak depot
Farepak received claims for 38m

The name Farepak has become synonymous with lost savings and ruined Christmases.

This time last year, thousands of British families were facing a bleak festive season, having lost the hundreds of pounds they had saved towards food and gifts after the hamper company collapsed.

The Swindon-based company had promised them a financially-secure holiday, but instead delivered present-free misery. The average customer was left 400 out of pocket, with some losing more than 2,000.

But, with Christmas around the corner again, how are the victims of the crisis coping?

I can't afford to buy the children what they want because I am still paying off last year. I am not looking forward to Christmas at all
Rachel Nethercott

For Rachel Nethercott, 38, the nightmare is still not over.

The mother-of-two from Barry, south Wales, remains in debt and has had to deny her son and daughter the presents they have requested for the second year running.

"I can't afford to buy the children what they want because I am still paying off last year. I am not looking forward to Christmas at all," she says.

Mrs Nethercott, who saved more than 1,000 with Farepak and also acted as an agent for the company, says the worst thing about the situation last year was not being able to give gifts to other people.

"I had to tell my children I couldn't buy what they wanted because the money was lost.

"That was the hardest thing. Telling them you can't afford to get them much. They were really good about it but asked, 'Why can't you get more money mum?'"

She now feels left in the dark about what is happening with Farepak and is confused about whether she is going to get any compensation.

However, she is confident she will be back in credit next year and will be able to give her family the Christmas they have missed out on for two years.

"I am getting there," she says.

Answers wanted

Mrs Nethercott's tale is replicated across the country.

Farepak campaigner Suzy Hall
What Farepak customers want now are answers, and the only person who will be able to do that is the liquidator
Suzy Hall, Unfairpak campaigner

Research by the University of Birmingham last month found some savers, many of whom were low-paid women, had been forced into a cycle of debt as result of the crisis.

Many had borrowed from relatives or taken out expensive loans and some still suffered depression and anxiety attacks, researchers said.

Suzy Hall, campaign co-ordinator for Unfairpak, a group set up to support victims in the wake of the crisis, agrees there are former Farepak customers who remain in debt - particularly those who went on to use loan sharks.

But, she adds, most have found alternative savings schemes and are "much better off" this Christmas that last.

Ms Hall, who has helped set up the Christmas Payments Association, a self-regulatory trade association for Christmas savings schemes, says customers will probably not receive any compensation until "well into next year".

But, she says, it is not the expected 5p for every 1 owed that customers want - it is an explanation of why their money disappeared.

"What Farepak customers want now are answers, and the only person who will be able to do that is the liquidator."

Struggling on

Many of the company's former customers say they have now given up on their money and have been forced to struggle to get back on their financial feet alone.

My family rallied around me and I was determined not to go into debt
Marisa Cavarra

Great-grandmother Marisa Cavarra, from Rhoose, Glamorgan, battled to stay in the black last year after losing 300 in the Farepack collapse.

The 71-year-old, an agent for the company for nine years, had to settle for buying her large family small presents.

"It was terrible - really, really terrible. But my family rallied around me and I was determined not to go into debt," she says.

But this year Mrs Cavarra, who has 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, is looking forward to giving her family a better Christmas after saving money independently.

"I am looking forward to it more than I was last year," she says.

'Going to town'

For Gillian Thompson, 30, of Darlington, the fight to salvage last year's Christmas was also difficult.

The former Farepak agent, who lost 400, even took on a part-time job selling Avon products so her two young daughters would not miss out on presents.

"It was memorable in the wrong sort of way," she says.

What happened was not just an accident. The finger of blame has to be pointed somewhere
Gillian Thompson

The thought of that bleak festive season is now motivating her and her husband Brian to make this December much more enjoyable. They have saved 200 and are "really going to go to town".

"The tree is up, the decorations are on the ceiling... and we are really getting in the mood. We put on Christmas songs every evening."

As for what happened to Farepak, she says she still feels "cheated". But for Mrs Thompson, it is no longer about getting her money back.

"It is about answers. I need to know. What happened was not just an accident. The finger of blame has to be pointed somewhere."



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