From buying flats in Bulgaria on a credit card to bankruptcy
Former taxi driver Rory Askins-Byrne is paying the price for his boom lifestyle
Rory Askins-Byrne in the attic bedroom at his parents’ house in Dublin. “I can’t really see any future, or hope, or money . . . I plan to donate my body to Trinity College so there will be no funeral costs.” Photograph: Alan Betson
Rory Askins-Byrne came of age during the boom years and while he wasn’t one of the Celtic tiger’s high flyers, the good times were pretty good to him and he was happy driving a taxi, earning plenty of money and spending it on foreign holidays and overseas property.
Today the 33-year-old has nothing. He is on social welfare of €188 and has moved back in with his elderly parents in Dublin’s inner-city. Just three weeks ago he had to sell the only possession he cared about – his 10-year-old Toyota Prius – to cover the €650 cost of his bankruptcy application which is currently making its way through the courts.
He owes €60,000 to half a dozen lenders including banks, credit unions and credit card companies – an absolute pittance in the scheme of things – but a debt of sufficient size to give him countless sleepless nights.
For more than three years he has been plagued by creditors with varying degrees of menace. He won’t answer his phone today unless he knows exactly who is calling because he can’t handle the stress of dealing with debt collectors anymore. He has a mountain of threatening letters and final demands which he has brought in a shopping bag to all the meetings he has had with Mabs (Money Advice and Budgeting Service), the St Vincent de Paul, and the financial adviser and solicitor who have agreed to support his cause.
The prospect that he will pay the money he owes back is as remote as his chances of finding employment. “There is no hope of me getting a job. I have tried hard to find something. I want to get off the dole. I went on a back-to-work scheme but there was nothing for me at the end of it,” he says. “The only thing left for me to do is become bankrupt. It is the only way I can get them all off my back.”
During the boom, things were so different. He was making enough working six days a week driving his taxi to cover the cost of month-long holidays in the US every January and he felt confident enough about his future prospects to invest money in the Bulgarian property market, almost on a whim.
He laughs mirthlessly when he recalls his initial foray into overseas investments. Fair City was to blame. It wasn’t until Askins-Byrne saw a character in the RTÉ soap buying a holiday home in eastern Europe that the notion even crossed his mind. A week later, he picked up a classifieds magazine and saw apartments selling in a Bulgarian resort for as little as €5,000. He bought one on his credit card.
Then he bought a second one. He has pictures of both. They look pretty grim. Emboldened, he got a mortgage from a Bulgarian bank for €27,000 to cover the cost of a third property – in a seaside resort. His plan was to keep buying rental properties in Bulgaria where he wanted to relocate before he was 40.
It didn’t work out. In 2008 the wheels came off his taxi business. His overheads climbed to more than €1,000 a week while his earnings fell to €600. So he sold his taxi plate for €4,500 to stave off his creditors.
All three Bulgarian properties are now deep in negative equity and he can’t find tenants for any of them. “I went to three different management companies but they all said the same thing, that they couldn’t find tenants. I have offered the properties to the bank but they don’t want to know.” He owes his credit union about €3,000 and has several other unsecured loans with Irish banks as well as his Bulgarian mortgage.
He has gone to Mabs for assistance and it tried to intercede on his behalf but it did not change his creditors’ tone. He has been offered some support from the St Vincent de Paul. He feels as if he has been abandoned by the State. “When the Government talks about addressing this problem they are talking about families and the family home. They have no interest in helping a single man like me.”
The worry has taken its toll both physically and mentally. He was being treated for depression but stopped taking his medication three weeks ago. He has also had counselling “I am always so stressed and always snapping at people. I can’t really see any future, or hope, or money. I have given up everything now except my car insurance. My life assurance is gone and I plan to donate my body to Trinity College so there will be no funeral costs.”
A man of his age talking about his funeral is worrying. When asked about this he shrugs. He’s not suicidal, he says, just feeling hopeless.
After years of being hounded and harassed, he decided to make a change at the beginning of this year and made contact with a new insolvency service, which is trading under the BankruptcyAdvice.ie banner. The company works in both debt mediation and insolvency work and it agreed to take him on on a pro-bono basis. Karl Deeter is handling the financial side of things. He has crunched all the numbers and it is clear bankruptcy is Askin-Byrne’s only option. He owes too much to apply for a debt-relief notice and too little to apply for any of the other insolvency arrangements. “It is going to take years to deal with this mess. But I am going to deal with it,” he says. “When the bankruptcy is done I am going to burn all the paperwork and I am going to start again. You are better off having nothing and owing nothing.”
If he could rewind the clock what would he do differently? “I wouldn’t have bought the properties in Bulgaria and I would have used no credit. Credit ruins everything. By using your credit card you are handing your future over to someone else. Now if I haven’t got the cash in my pocket I don’t buy anything. I will never use credit again.”