'I am just incredibly depressed': The redundancy trap

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The Independent Online
TWO YEARS ago, Annie Simms, 38, was a highly-paid computer specialist who owned two properties, enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and looked forward to a secure future, writes Mary Braid.

Today, she is taking advice from Shelter, the charity for the homeless, after being made redundant, falling behind in her mortgage repayments and being threatened with repossession by her building society. The sudden downturn in her fortunes has shocked her.

'This kind of thing doesn't happen to people like us. This is an awful thing to say, but the unemployed were another class . . . You felt they were unemployed because they wanted to be.

'I sympathised with that 'on your bike' philosophy. We were the generation that set up ventures and unemployment was not part of our experience. Quite frankly, when a court summons about the mortgage comes, I don't know what to do with it.'

Mrs Simms' troubles began in 1990 when she bought a second home to end the strain of commuting from west London to her new job at Gatwick in West Sussex. She was unable to sell her pounds 85,000 flat in Chiswick, but, anticipating better times, let it out for pounds 175 a week to cover her mortgage.

That 'seemed all so easy' until her tenants moved out and she was unable to find replacements immediately. Suddenly, she was struggling to pay that mortgage and one on her new pounds 50,000 flat in Ifield, West Sussex.

Arrears had already begun to build up when she was made redundant last year. Now her savings are depleted but her debts are rising.

Mrs Simms, a divorcee, is trapped and playing for time, praying for a job or an improvement in the housing market. This year, tenants have kept the Chiswick property financially afloat but they move out next month and again, she is having difficulties finding new ones.

Selling the Chiswick flat now would not help. It is worth just over pounds 60,000, pounds 10,000 less than her mortgage. But to persuade the DSS to meet her Ifield mortgage for six months, Mrs Simms has had to agree to sell it. Even if she finds a buyer, she has no savings left to pay off the difference between her mortgage and its present value. Meanwhile, the Ifield flat has dropped pounds 10,000 in value in two years.

While the Woolwich Building Society, which gave her a pounds 70,000 mortgage on the Chiswick property, has been 'wonderful', Leeds Building Society wants to repossess the home it lent her pounds 47,500 to buy. Only DSS payments are keeping repossession at bay.

She is living on pounds 42.55 a week income support and asking herself a question once associated with 'another class': How am I expected to live on such a paltry sum? 'I am just incredibly depressed. I left home at 18. Now at 38, my mother is asking me if I want money for groceries. You never expect to go back to that.'

(Photograph omitted)