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Personal insolvency (bankruptcy) is a widespread and growing phenomenon in England and Wales. In the simplest case, any person who owes more than £750 can, upon payment of a relatively modest fee and completion of two simple forms (available online), petition for his or her own bankruptcy. The hearing of that petition is advertised, often in the ‘small ads’ of the local press. All that then remains is for the petitioner to persuade a judge at their local County Court, in a private hearing likely to take only a matter of minutes, that they are genuinely unable to pay their debts. In most cases, this is abundantly self-evident from their Statement of Affairs – indeed, it is not challenged – and the petition is granted without demur. An interview at the local office of the Insolvency Service (often, but not invariably) follows, the creditors are contacted, and the Statement of Affairs is approved. Save in cases of misconduct, most bankrupts are automatically discharged within a year.
Although the administrative ease with which bankruptcy can be entered is perhaps a melancholy counterpart to the ease with which the want of solvency was arrived at, the potentially traumatic effect of bankruptcy itself is not ameliorated, especially in relation to what is often the principal asset – the family home.
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