One of the most worrying experiences for an ordinary law abiding citizen is to be summoned before a court of law, even if it is a civil case, such a creditor suing you for an outstanding debt. The level of stress can be unbearable, however, if what is at risk is your family home.

Thousands of people are experiencing such worry and fear right now, and are either too shocked to know the correct action to take. Too often they try to ignore or deny their problem, quickly making it worse.

It’s a very common reaction, says Karl Cronin the Money Advice and Budget Service coordinator in Cavan town. Recently, he wrote to me, care of the Anglo Celt newspaper, where this column also appears:

“We are witnessing an increased number of clients who are being brought to court over their debts. In a majority of cases, the client will have not attended the hearing out of fear and anxiety, and a judgment is made in their absence.  This results in the judge imposing a monthly repayment figure which the client usually cannot afford, leading to even more difficulties.

“We would like to see an article published explaining the court procedure for clients with debts and encouraging them to attend these hearings.  Ideally, they would have visited their local MABS beforehand, and have had a Financial Statement of their means drafted to present in Court, allowing the judge to make a fair and realistic decision.  An article outlining the different courts and their procedures would remove some of the fear these debtors have, and give them an idea of what to expect.”

According to MABS, judges are showing themselves to be very sympathetic to people who find themselves in serious debt due to the economic downturn. This sympathetic reaction – the judge’s role is to see justice done, not to act as debt collectors for banks and financial institutions – means that in genuine cases where the debtor can, and is willing to make realistic and sustainable repayments, the creditor will often be required by the judge to accept such terms.

Nevertheless, as Karl suggests, it will be helpful to explain the legal process. The following summary comes care of a thread on the financial website, :

A debtor is usually written to by the creditor’ solicitor and are warned that legal action will be undertaken to recover the debt. Normally, the debtor is given seven days to come to a satisfactory arrangement with the creditor. Failing this, legal papers to seek a court judgment will be issued.