Better times are coming

It’s been a rugged few years and through that time I’ve spent a lot of effort fending off organisations wanting to get money out of me. Being broke and homeless does little for your savings, and the small debts I entered that circumstance with became much greater as time went by. Many of said organisations were reasonable when I came to explain my situation. All of them have provisions for people such as I was then, but not all of them attend to them as honestly as they should.

It was very much a juggling act looking either to appease, rebut or inform the variety of collection agencies on my tail. At the peak of this I was getting a call every day, and often multiple calls through the day. I became inured to the calls, though they never stopped being annoying. There were occasions when I would bite back aggressively. That’s my nature, to be defiantly independent, but it was lent wings on occasion by some of the behaviours I had to put up with, which ranged from the rank incompetent to the personal and nasty. It never touched me, and in fact there were many times I would laugh in their face. I enjoyed taking them on, enjoyed ripping their prepared scripts into shreds and tearing holes in their arguments. It might seem a small thing, but it was one way of asserting my individuality in the face of monolithic indifference.

Throughout this period there were what I came to think as reasonable organisations, and I was happy to work with them towards a resolution. They were the organisations who recognised my situation and gave it due gravity. With those I was able to defer my debt to a later time by claiming a hardship provision.

There was one organisation particularly unreasonable. They had bought the debt from the primary creditor and despite evidence provided refused any consideration of hardship, or indeed financial reality. They were incessant and their practices dodgy. They would call up to 3-4 times a day, though mostly I wouldn’t answer. The debt which had been stabilised for years at a moderate level suddenly went up as they added fees and charges as well as interest. They listened to none of my arguments and in the end set a server on my tail. It was only by chance I discovered this – they went to the wrong address (a measure of their incompetence, as I had provided an updated address several times previously). As soon as I cottoned onto to this the seething anger became fury.

The modus operandi of many of these places is to bully and intimidate. They are nasty and unscrupulous. I’m sure in many instances it is effective. That’s not my caper, to be bullied, just the opposite. Enough was enough and so I contacted the ombudsman and with their assistance was able to hold off on the summons.

From there I went on the offensive, claiming unscrupulous behaviour of the collection agency in direct contravention of the law. Over a period of months we went backwards and forwards, leading ultimately to the transcripts of the chats being supplied to me. Much of it was redacted. When I demanded the full transcript they went quiet. In the meantime the ombudsman had asked me for what I considered a satisfactory settlement.

Fast forward a year and out of the blue an email is received by the ombudsman. They’re following up on the case and would be in touch. I was wary of this, uncertain of how it would play out and wondering if it would be better that sleeping dogs lie – but I let it go ahead. That was about a month ago.

Yesterday I got a call from the ombudsman. They had received a settlement offer from the company in my favour. They offered to waive all my debt (which had more than doubled), to stop all legal action, remove any reference to this from my credit record, and finally to provide me with a $4,000 cash settlement.

I was surprised. To say the least. And delighted. It’s up to me to accept it, which likely I will. I don’t want to exploit the situation, though it’s likely I could squeeze more out of them. I want to act with honour, and the dollars, welcome as they are, are secondary to the principle.

I don’t know if you can understand, but this feels like a vindication. I made reference last night on Facebook about how it pays off sometimes being a stubborn prick. I’m not sure I could have done anything different to what I did – it’s just not in my nature to submit. I’m proud nonetheless because I’ve held a faceless, arrogant organisation to account when many would have bowed down before it.

There is great symbolism in this for me. Those times were mighty tough, and seemed to go on forever. It would have been easy to give up. The important thing is that I didn’t. I’ve endured a lot, but I’m coming out of it, touch wood, and it actually feels like this might be a harbinger of better times, touch wood. When I chose to stand fast on that day it was still very hard and I had little and every day was a challenge. Looking back it was pretty bleak, as had been the years preceding it. I stood firm then though and held the line throughout and then the day came when that tenacity was rewarded in better times, with the promise of more to come. It has been a journey, from hardship to hope. I have survived. I am here. My belief in my self and a better future has paid off.

Nothing is certain. Nothing’s about to fall in my lap. I’ve survived the worst though, and my time is coming.

Dealing with it

Anyone who’s read this site for any period knows that I’ve had challenges. They’re not as great now as they once were, but they remain significant. I do my best managing them, but at the very best I can do no better – currently – than fight out a draw. I don’t go on about the specifics here much because, well, I don’t like to dwell on it too much, and because I feel I’m grizzling. I’m not. It is what it is, but it bears recording if this is to be any kind of true record.

I’ve had my wins over the journey. For years the ATO were after many thousands of dollars from me – over $40K. We battled by lengthy email, over the phone, and in court. I managed a stay of execution a couple of times, and at best battled them to a stalemate. The last real correspondence I had from there was basically along the lines of ok, you owe us, but we won’t chase you for the debt. It was an acknowledgement of sorts of my circumstances. Where it stands now I’m not sure, but I’m breathing easier and I’m getting (modest) tax returns.

There was another mob claiming a debt from years ago. I disputed it – I was with another provider – and challenged them to put up or shut up. If I owe the money then prove it, and they’ve since gone quiet.

Then there was a very aggressive collection agency who tried to intimidate me into coughing up. That’s their modus operandi, but I don’t intimidate. I gave as good as I got. When they tried to serve a summons on me I went to the ombudsman. The notice was withdrawn. I have since challenged them through the ombudsman on a number of points – basically they did things they’re not supposed to do. I’m sure they’re the things they try on everyone, relying on people to submit out of fear and ignorance. I’m not sure the case is yet closed, but the ball is in their court and it’s 3 months since they responded.

They’re the (perhaps temporary) wins.

There remain serious obstacles. The level of debt I carry is still pretty substantial. Fortunately some of my creditors are more reasonable and have backed off in recognition of my circumstances. They won’t forever.

I owe money to friends also, and nothing weighs on me more heavily than that. My first priority is to repay them, and I must do that if I am to feel any peace.

Then there are more practical, current issues.

I got a robodebt call from Centrelink last week for payments dating back nearly 3 years. I’m obliged to prove to them why I don’t owe them, which is near impossible given the time elapsed. The whole think is shonky, and the episode reflects very badly on an Australian government who should be serving its people.

Then there’s my car rego. I was invoiced and paid it at the concession rate last May. Turns out Centrelink told VicRoads I wasn’t entitled to the concession and so VicRoads suspended my registration because it was short paid. This was back in August.

Problem is they never advised me of this. And when in March I checked my rego renewal date online everything appeared normal. In April, however, I received a notice from VicRoads stating I wouldn’t be receiving a renewal notice because of the short payment.

Naturally I called them immediately for an explanation, then requested an investigation of the circumstances (which has since disappeared). Bottom line was that if I wanted to drive my car I had to pay last year’s shortfall ($465 – I’d been driving unregistered without knowing it), plus this year’s renewal amount ($787). I earn barely enough just to get by week to week, and certainly not enough to accumulate the funds to pay all of this. In other words, without a windfall, it’s impossible. To complicate it further if I don’t pay by August 1 then my car becomes de-registered.

In a way it’s academic. My car badly needs a service and has oil pressure issues which make driving inadvisable.

There are sundry other issues and mounting hills I don’t want to think about, not to mention the penalties I had a community legal service mismanage on my behalf.

You understand why I don’t like thinking about these things, let alone writing of them. It’s just so bleak and it seems sometimes I’m in a hole I can never get out of. It’s easier to push it to one side and just get on with things, trusting that I can make it work. Just deal with it – but that means deals I have to make.


Moving week

It’s been a significant week. Not so much in what has happened, more so in terms of what the future may hold.

There’s a lot goes on in my life. It’s pretty dull, but it’s pretty busy to. There are constant and often insistent demands upon me. There are regular difficulties and the occasional controversy. Most of it relates to stuff long gone, but not all of it. I don’t bother to record much of that here, if any. It’s tedious, and no-one wants to read about it.

Unfortunately I have to deal with it. No getting away from that. The phone calls come in and I respond as I see fit. Sometimes that’s conciliatory and diplomatic. Sometimes it’s scathing. Much of it depends on who is contacting me, and how they conduct themselves. I rank them you see. If you’re reasonable with me then I’ll be reasonable with you. If you’re rude or high-handed you get the full force of H’s wit. Once upon a time I’d have been intimidated by it. Not any more. I give as good as, and often better than I get.

There are letters too. Sometimes they sit unopened on my console for weeks. I know what’s in them, I just don’t want to read about it. Eventually I have to deal with them too. In the end I’m pretty diligent. Nothing slips by. Every opportunity is exploited. Just this week I’ve written another letter appealing a situation and complaining about the process, following up on a phone call. (On a side note, it’s shocking how bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt so many agencies are).

I’ve survived like that for years, but it’s not much fun, and it’s not much better than survival. You do adjust to it though.

Today, in the space of about 30 minutes two very important things occurred.

The first was that a courier delivered a contract for me to sign. It was belated confirmation of a job I will commence in late January. Thirty minutes later the ATO called me. They asked a few questions then told me they would not be approving my request for tax relief. No surprises there, but disappointing all the same.

One of the questions they asked me is why I hadn’t declared myself bankrupt before now? That’s a very easy question to ask now, in hindsight, but at the time when I might have considered that I believed that I would soon be clear of my situation. I had hope and belief. Two rears plus later it’s clear it was misplaced.

It would have been so much easier had I declared myself bankrupt then. I wouldn’t have had to deal with much of this stress, and none of the constant demands on me. I would have slept a lot easier all round. And it would be over now, done and dusted, a clean slate to take into the new year.

I didn’t because I thought things would get better. And I didn’t it because I didn’t want to be a bankrupt. I didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities by some legal loophole. And I was proud. That may sound silly, but it counts for something. And I didn’t do it because of the technical difficulties it would present – unable to operate a business except under my own name, the potential difficulty in getting somewhere to live, etc.

Today I’ve decided I’ll do it. I don’t know if I have much choice, but it feels right regardless. I’ve fought hard. I’ve tried to do the ‘right thing’. I’ve got to move on though.

So, new job and bankrupt, but that’s not the end of it.

I’ve had enough calls this week to believe that next year will be better. It could be an illusion, but suddenly there appears some interest for someone with my skills. I doubt anything will come of the opportunities presented to me this week, but it gives me hope for next year. I need not be stuck in customer service forever.

There was a last thing. Early in the week I decided to look up something online. I’ve had a diagnosed condition for about 10 years. I’m used to it, and it rates no more than an inconvenience most days. Lately it’s troubled me a little more so impatient I decided to see if there have been any recent advances in the treatment of it. To my surprise I found information that troubled me.

I had no real awareness that my condition has a reasonable mortality rate. As I read further it became more confusing, but also more worrying.

The trouble is I feel pretty fit. I look pretty fit. I mean, the last thing in the world I would think is that I might have an illness that could kill me. And I still don’t believe that.

That’s easy to think now of course. I’m spritely. Still youthful, and beyond my years. This was a wake up call though. It can change. And besides telling myself to have a good chat to my doctor about it next time I very quickly began the exercises for my condition I do so rarely.

I don’t want readers to get the wrong idea. I don’t really know what to expect – it’s very vague and contradictory. I don’t expect to die soon, or indeed not for a long time. I’ve set myself 90 years, and nothing’s changed. It’s a reminder though not to take things for granted.

True context

Ok, I hate doing this. For a start, I’m meant to be anonymous, right?

Secondly, I’m a lone wolf eh? Proud, and proudly old-school, reluctant to admit to weakness or ask for help. Right?

Thirdly, well it’s fucking self-indulgent. It’s all about me in the worst possible way. I don’t do that either.

And yet here I am. Doing it. Exposing my face to the world. Not just asking for help, but exposing my life, my frailties, to the world to see. And guess what, it may be slick and modern, but what I’m doing is pretty well beg:

Why am I doing this? Well, it’s pretty self-evident. I can’t survive without outside help, divine intervention, or possibly both. As an atheist I can’t count on divine intervention, so I’m asking the world for help.

It’s been quite a journey. It used to be that I wouldn’t dream of posting anything here too emotionally revealing. That’s easy when you’re on top of things. There’s no need to reveal anything, and probably not much to reveal anyway.

It’s a different story when it gets tough. Under pressure the fissures appear. It becomes your life, to the point that there’s little you can write that doesn’t expose some emotional crisis. If I had of stuck to the old rules I’d either be posting very little here, or else posting things rendered meaningless by lack of true context.

It’s funny, I read a post of mine going back to 2009. I was complaining about the bad year I’d had. You aint seen nothing yet brother, I thought. I sort of looked down my nose at that earlier me – he had it easy, and was soft because of it.

Things have got a lot tougher since then, but I’m still standing. If next year I had a ‘bad’ year like he described I’d be counting my lucky stars. It’s all relative.

If I have money in my pocket, a roof over my head, food on the table, good health, and purpose in my life then I’m a rich man. Anything much more than that is a great bonus.

So, I’m not asking you to donate – that’s just too crass and pitiful. Good vibes will help me along the way though, so be generous.

Things I can’t do

In the city on Wednesday I caught up with Cheeseboy around lunchtime for a coffee. It was a bright, blue, brilliant day, and as we walked towards the chose cafe he asked, as is normal, how I was progressing in my various ventures. By and large the answer was negative, as was my situation in general. “You’ve got to get a job,” he exclaimed, “you’ve just got to get a job.”

I was tempted to thank him for this piece of sage advice, to respond with something along the lines of “thanks, I might try that,” but instead walked on silently. He’s right, I do need a job, very badly, but I don’t need to be told that.

People often say things like that to me. I’m not offended by it, though there is a sense of familiar exasperation. People mean well, and often times these things come out because they can’t think of anything else to say. I’m aware my circumstances and predicament often makes it awkward and embarrassing for others. Even at the best of times I will often feel the odd man out, the elephant in the room.

All the same it’s not hard to feel patronised sometimes. Not so much from the likes of Cheeseboy, who I’m close to, and who loves me like a brother, but others, the people you catch up with 5 minutes very so often who and have an opinion on your situation they want to share.

This is hard on me because I always have been, and remain, a proud man. There’s no getting away from the fact that I’m now a supplicant. I’m constantly searching for a job, any job, just to get by. I’m always trying to find ways to make money, or save it. Unlike most I don’t have a job to go to, or money in my pocket, and very rarely do I get to experience the simple pleasures those things can facilitate. Too often I’m reliant on others. Essentially, I now live my life on my knees – but it’s not something I want reminding of.

Yesterday I had another friend suggest I could perhaps become an Uber driver. It’s something I’d looked into previously. As an option it was better than nothing, but best as a supplementary income. Regardless it is not something I can do because my car is uninsured. End of story.

My friend responded in shock, mate, you’ve got to get your car insured. He’s right, I do, but the reason I haven’t is because I can’t.

My car insurance is a handy metaphor for my situation. When it fell due about a year ago I knew I couldn’t renew it. As it lapsed I was certain that within a couple of weeks I would be in an accident just to rub it in. I was always the sort of person right on top of such things. Not renewing my car insurance was not a choice I made, but simply the exercise of reality. I couldn’t pay what I didn’t have, and that’s true for so much.

One of the hardest things I find in my situation is that there’s no-one who understands what it’s like if they haven’t been through it themselves.

You try to look to the future, but you’re always dragged into the immediate. You wonder how you’ll get to work tomorrow because your car’s running on empty. You need to get some petrol, no two ways. You can spare $20 perhaps, but that means you can’t buy groceries. You haven’t had lunch this week, or last week or indeed any day over the last 3 months.

The gas bill is due and the electricity overdue. Your phone has only just been re-connected after paying the arrears. There’s hardly any food in the pantry, but even so the priority is food for Rigby first. Whatever’s left over is yours.

Your mind does it’s sums trying to make things add up, but no matter how many times you try you’re always short. Something will have to be sacrificed, and even then it’s a scramble.

You go to bed, you wake up, you get by, and when you’ve got a moment you try to find a way out of this miserable existence. It takes immense focus just to get by, but it takes its toll.

How I wish I could find someone to explain this too and know they would understand without comment. I’m not searching for pity – I’m striving to make things work out. I don’t like talking about these things, but as much as anything I miss having someone who has an understanding of how bloody tough this is. In the absence of that the isolation – emotional and psychological, as well as social – deepens; and the gap between me and society widens.

I know I should pay my car insurance. I actually got a quote a month ago. I have to pay the gas and electricity bills too though, both overdue. My car payment is late by 3 weeks, and if I don’t pay my phone bill in a week it will be cut-off again. My internet is due tomorrow, and the rent – to which I’ve got nothing set aside – is due in 10 days. And I almost forgot – my car rego is due next week.

You tell me. I can’t pay all. What do I pay? What’s my priorities? How do I manage it? What excuses can I come up with? How do I secure an extension? Where do I find extra dollars? Which phone calls do I take, and which do I ignore?

There’s a lot of things I should do, but only a short list of things I can do. My life is balancing priorities, and unfortunately the immediate and most pressing priority is always that of survival.

I live this 24/7. I don’t get a break from it. I’m thankful for the support and encouragement, and I’m always open to new ideas. Just know I’ve considered most things, and tried many of them. Every day I’m out there trying something. And if there’s something I haven’t done that perhaps I could have it’s probably because I can’t.

Critical phase

I’m dreaming a lot these days. In my experience, that’s generally a sign that there’s a bit going on.

Last night I had two dreams one after the after that pretty well encapsulated my present situation. In the first dream I was poised to, or just become, homeless again. This is a very real possibility for me.
In the second dream I was working, but only just. I was consulting to a client thanks to friends who had recommended me. The job was a bit unusual for me. I was working with SAP again, something I haven’t done for about 10 years, and so I tread carefully. I was conscious of the fact that this might represent my way out, as long as I didn’t fuck it up. Dream ended with everything ticking along well, but no guarantees.

I finished my job today at noon. I may get further work there again, but it’s unlikely and not something I should be counting on. It finished sooner than anticipated because I was a little too efficient, and leaves me probably two days short of salary I’d budgeted on.
At the same time, this morning I discovered that a BAS refund I was counting on would not be coming through. It’s left me in a very sticky situation.

As it stands my rent is overdue and I’m short on it by about $500 – which I was counting on the BAS to cover. I have a gas bill overdue also, as well as a car payment. I have bugger all in my pocket and nothing coming in for about a fortnight.

I’d have had kittens in a situation like this a few years ago. I’m not happy now, but at the same time I’ve been conditioned to expect this life. I hate how I’ve had to expect a lowering of standards, simply because there has been no other option. Once upon a time I paid on the button. Once upon a time I never relied on getting help from friends. But once upon a time I had money.

It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, and the worst of it is that I haven’t got an answer right now, short of borrowing money again (I lose a tiny bit of my soul each I have to do that).

I’m open to suggestion folks. In the meantime, I’m sitting here trying to drum things up. There’re a few job applications outstanding. A meeting on Friday that might come up trumps. That’s about it though. I’m calling people now, and put the word out for writing jobs.
I’m now in the critical phase. Unless something changes the first of those dreams will be prophetic. Reckon I have about two weeks to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Perhaps the second dream shows the way.

For want of an email

So, turns out that I got docked because my stellar Financial Counsellor fucked up again. I haven’t told the full story of my recent dealings with her, which have been scant and angry. Life is like that I realise, full of well-intentioned incompetence and lazy indifference. It’s the history of the world as much as anything else, the epic battles and charismatic leaders balanced out by the untold, unheralded, unknown tales of sheer stupidity.

In brief, I went to my financial counsellor about 7 weeks ago and told her to get things moving. With the prospect of dollars coming my way I wanted to tidy up my affairs, which meant proposing arrangements with my creditors. There and then, while I sat there, she sent out about half a dozen faxes to my assortment of creditors.

A few days later she sent me a message telling me that one of my creditors had responded with an offer which seemed reasonable. Was I willing to accept it? I replied with a yes inside an hour, and that was the last I heard of it.

I spent the next few weeks sending her emails and making unanswered calls chasing up this issue, and the remaining, to see where things were at. I got nothing from her and it was only much later that I discovered that she had done nothing. By that time the deal was off the table, collections agencies were on the phone to me, and I was listed as being in default.

I finally tracked her down only after complaining directly to Salvation Army administration, but the horse had bolted. One deal was gone, others were lost somewhere in the murk, and, as I found over the weekend, the further consequences meant that I was out-of-pocket by $3,500.

Turns out my bank took the money from me because I owe money on my credit card with them. They took it because my Financial Counsellor had not responded to their proposal. In other words, the money would not have been taken from me had she done her job, and by now I’d likely have had a deal on the table.

She had only to respond to them by email and none of this situation would’ve arisen and I’d be thousands better off.

To ANZ’s credit they’ve been reasonable. I called them first thing this morning and was given details. I got onto my Financial Counsellor to rectify it. Not trusting her I acted on my own behalf just in case. I got onto a very reasonable guy who grasped and appreciated the situation quickly and promised to help. The outcome of all that is that I’m likely to have the debit reversed, but have to jump through some hoops first. There will need to be some kind of arrangement, but what pisses me is that the arrangement will be of less benefit to me now than it would have been had my financial counsellor had done her job properly a month ago.

That was then – predictably it became more complex later.

I got back from work to find an email from my financial counsellor stating she had a deal with the bank that materially worse than what I had discussed with them earlier. I was exasperated. I told her so. Then I rang the bank myself.

What followed was quite an intense 15 minute conversation. I was seething. I’m good at strong conversations. I may be in beta minus situation, but I remain an alpha character, and it’s in my voice and in my attitude.

They had proposed two options. The first is that they keep the money they took, and make an arrangement for the balance. Or they return half of it and make an arrangement. So generous.

Either option was pointless in my situation. I told them that. I explained my situation, how I needed the money to get a place to live, how if they failed to return it to me then they’d be responsible for me living on the street next week. A little melodramatic, but broadly true. We went too and fro. She held her ground but gradually I beat her back.

First she said that if I provide the paperwork they would discuss reversing the debit. Not good enough I told her. I need a commitment. Not a discussion, but a clear yes or no. Finally she acceded to that.

I guess it’s a victory, but it doesn’t feel like it. I still have to cough up the proof they want to get my own money back, and hope I have it in time to secure a property. And on top of that I’ve lost out on the arrangement I might have had – perhaps a 50% discount on the debt – because my financial counsellor didn’t respond to it.

I need her to clean up as much as she can, but it’s clear she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She’s out of her depth. I want some compensation for what’s happened, but I’ve already looked into getting another financial counsellor to act for me.

It’s fortunate I’m a resilient character. This is serious business. Someone more frail might have felt seriously overwhelmed by the events of the last few days, and quite possibly very depressed.