A life of scrutiny and restrictions

AS THE 8,000-odd individuals who have fallen foul of the process this year will have quickly discovered, a bankrupt's lot is not a happy one.

To begin with, their lives become dominated by a 'trustee in bankruptcy', whose job is to ensure that assets are maximised and used for the benefit of creditors. The bankrupt must co-operate fully with the trustee, on pain of arrest and prosecution, telling the trustee of any property acquired as a result of an inheritance, for instance.

The trustee has the ability to make life very uncomfortable. A court may let the trustee throw the bankrupt out of his or her home. Or it may say that a percentage of the bankrupt's earnings must in future be paid directly to the trustee by his or her employer.

Bankrupts who want to continue trading face an interminable list of restrictions. They cannot be directors of a company or even be involved in setting up or managing a company unless a court gives them permission first. They cannot trade under any name other than the one under which they were made bankrupt unless they warn people first.

And if they run short of cash, they cannot borrow more than pounds 250 without revealing that they are bankrupt.

Even their lives as citizens are circumscribed - they may not stand for Parliament or become local councillors.

Things could be worse, however. At least they no longer have to give up their sartorial freedom. Until as late as 1836, Scottish bankrupts had to dress in 'half yellow and half brown upper coats, hose and cap' so that no one should be in any doubt about their status.

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