Saturday 22 October 2016

The Lost Recovery: A novel crowd-funding campaign has given hope to a blind man and his family who were evicted from their home last month

Campaigners hope to raise enough to pay off the bank and transfer John and Fiona Lloyds' debt to a homeless charity, writes Maeve Sheehan

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

SHOCKING EVICTION: Still in their pyjamas, Fiona Lloyd hugs her distraught 10-year-old son while her blind husband John, still in his bare feet, pleads with gardai and the bailiffs not to evict them from their home in Kells, Co Meath, last week
SHOCKING EVICTION: Still in their pyjamas, Fiona Lloyd hugs her distraught 10-year-old son while her blind husband John, still in his bare feet, pleads with gardai and the bailiffs not to evict them from their home in Kells, Co Meath, last week

A blind man, his wife and their 10-year-old son, who were taken from their home barefoot and in their pyjamas in an early-morning eviction last month, have been offered a final chance to get their home back through a novel crowd-funding campaign.

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Video footage filmed by neighbours of John Lloyd (43) his wife, Fiona (44) and their son being removed by a team of bailiffs from their home in Kells, Co Meath was viewed more than one million times on the internet.

John Lloyd, a former civil servant, who was medically retired because of visual impairment, and his wife were unable to meet the full repayments on the €186,000 mortgage on the property that they have lived in for 14 years.

The disturbing images of a family in their night clothes, stunned and distressed as bailiffs seized possession of their home, dominated social media and grabbed newspaper headlines.

However, their difficulty has also inspired a crowd-funding campaign to get the family back into their home, but with the Peter McVerry homeless charity trust, rather than the lender, Stepstone Mortgages, controlling the property.

A Go Fund Me web page, called 'Save the Lloyd Family Home', has raised more than €5,000 in two weeks. Stepstone, which has agreed to take €68,500 in settlement of the debt, has postponed the sale of the family home until after February 1, to give the Lloyds time to raise the rest of the money.

The money raised will be used to clear the debt to Stepstone Mortgages, but instead of gifting the Lloyds a free house, their debt will be effectively transferred to the Peter McVerry Trust, in a legal agreement signed by both parties.

A charge for €68,500 will be registered against the property in favour of the trust.

The idea is that the Lloyds will repay the charity, rather than the bank, in monthly instalments that are far more manageable for the family than anything a commercial lender would agree to.

Fiona Lloyd said this weekend that the crowd-funding scheme was a lifeline at a time when they had given up hope.

"We are so grateful and thankful to everyone who has helped us. The kindness of strangers has been phenomenal," she said.

The author of the scheme is Austin Byrne, an activist with the backing of Right 2 Homes, and Jerry Beades' Land League, both campaign groups against eviction and repossessions.

He approached the Lloyds in the High Court after their eviction and offered to help. He presented them with the details of the crowd-funding proposal last Tuesday, just before a High Court hearing that the family thought would be the end of the road.

When it was put to the lender, Stepstone agreed to give the proposal a chance and delayed the sale of the family home - although it drew the line at allowing the Lloyds to move back into the house in the meantime.

"The purpose is to secure the family home and to get the bank out of the equation," said Byrne. "This is not a free gratis gift to the Lloyds but rather a renegotiation, rebalancing of their debt obligation."

As for unease about rewarding debt defaulters, he said mortgage holders will not emerge with a clean slate but will repay the debt to a homeless charity - a far more benign creditor than a bank or financial institution.

Crowd-funders will ultimately be supporting a homeless charity, with the bonus of getting a family back in their home.

"This solution is a win-win for all concerned; the bank, the family, the Peter McVerry Trust and the taxpayer, who is not burdened with another family seeking social housing ... or rent supplement for private rental accommodation," he said.

The venture is something of an experiment for the Right 2 Homes organisation and if it's successful with the Lloyds, the crowd-funding solution will be rolled out to help other families on the brink of eviction, said Byrne.

It is the last throw of the dice for the Lloyds, however. Fiona Lloyd said they have been traumatised and in limbo since they were evicted from the house they have lived in for 14 years last month.

"We never profited in the boom. We were on a low wage. We tried our best. The last thing we wanted to do was lose our home," she said. They got into difficulties and by 2013 their total debt rose to €240,000, including arrears, fees and interest. Fiona said their repayments spiralled from €423 to €939 a month.

Since their eviction, the Lloyds are staying with relatives in Dublin. But many of their personal belongings are still in their former family home and their son has been unable to go to school.

"We have no way of getting our son in and out of school in Kells. We have no way of getting him back into school until we get back into the house. Our son is being deprived of his education because of all of this," said Fiona.

The eviction coincided with the end of the school holidays and the family didn't know where they would end up living, so have been unable to enrol him and are home schooling him for now.

Some of his school gear, even the teddy bear that he brings to bed with him, is still in the family home. "We had nothing at all. We have had some very kind woman drop over clothes to the National Land League that would fit my son. The bank did suggest on Tuesday that if we wrote to them and gave them a list of everything we wanted they would get someone to go into the house to get it for us. But that to me would feel that I was being burgled, like someone going through my personal stuff."

Fiona said her son would be "scarred for life" by what he witnessed in her house on the morning of the eviction, while her blind husband was taken out without his cane.

"He had to shout at them, 'I'm visually impaired. I need my cane.'"

Sunday Independent

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