'Dad, I don't want to be homeless': The anguish faced by honest people facing massive legal bills

Taxi driver Jamil Zafar is still haunted by memories of the day the bailiff came calling and the terrible emotional impact it had on his family.

He said his son later told him: "I don't want to end up homeless".

In common with hundreds of people across the North of England, he became embroiled in this saga because he was trying to protect his family’s health and wellbeing.

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Mr Zafar said that in 2019, a representative from a law firm visited his property in Halifax and told his wife that insulation which had been installed a few years earlier in the building’s cavity walls was unlawful and potentially harmful to his children’s health.

Jamil Zafar, from Halifax. He is suffering sleepless nights after receiving a large and unexpected legal bill. (Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe)Jamil Zafar, from Halifax. He is suffering sleepless nights after receiving a large and unexpected legal bill. (Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Jamil Zafar, from Halifax. He is suffering sleepless nights after receiving a large and unexpected legal bill. (Photo by Jonathan Gawthorpe)

He told The Yorkshire Post: "In response, I sought guidance on finding a resolution, and they suggested either pursuing legal action against the insulation company or having them rectify the issue by removing the insulation or compensating for external damages. I agreed on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

He said his case was subsequently transferred to SSB Law Solicitors who handled the matter for nearly two years.

He added: "During this period, I intermittently responded to their correspondence and, at the time requested the closure of my case.

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He said: "On January 30 2023, I received the initial enforcement letter demanding £2,973.36. I contacted SSB Law Solicitors, and was assured via email that the payment had been made to the High Court Bailiff. Despite this assurance, on November 28 2023, I received another enforcement letter, this time for £18,988.75.

"Disturbed by this unexpected demand, I learned that SSB Law Solicitors had gone into administration. In response, I contacted Leeds High Court, requesting the suspension of the enforcement order and the unwarranted payment.”

A few days before Christmas 2023, an enforcement agent visited his home while he was at work.

"My wife, who was terrified, showed him the hearing letter,’’ he said

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"I can't work properly and me and my wife can't sleep. The amount (of money) in the enforcement notice is always on my mind. Wherever I go, I have on my mind the fact I must pay between £18,000 and £19,000."

“My kids asked me, 'Dad, have you done anything wrong? Why are you paying this amount? I just want to release my family from this stressful and horrible situation."

Jayne Battye, who is another of Ms Lynch’s constituents said that in 2017, someone knocked on her door telling her about a Government grant that could pay for cavity wall insulation to be installed in my home.

She said: “I was told this would improve heating costs and would also be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. I had the insulation installed believing I was doing the right thing."

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However, in the following months, she started to notice damp and mould appearing in her front and back bedrooms.

She added: "Following on from this, in 2020, someone came to the house and asked whether there was any damp in the property. He then proceeded to explain how the cavity wall insulation should never have been installed in the first place and this had now caused extensive issues at my property which would be very difficult to rectify, as well as expensive for myself, which I cannot afford.

She added: "He advised me to submit a claim for damage done to the property through a no win no fee claim. I was assured I would not have to pay anything and this was the best way of rectifying the problem I was now faced with. Over the last four years, I have received letters from SSB compiling a case.”

She said the the last correspondence she received from SSB was in October 2022 stating that the claim had been concluded, and the law firm had been unable to recover any damages from the defendant on her behalf.

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"Out of the blue, just before Christmas I received a letter from the high court enforcement to say I was liable to pay £32,000 to the defendant's solicitor. I live on my own and work for the NHS, earning a modest salary. I have no means to pay this money and I am worried about bailiffs coming to my house and getting a CCJ or a charging order on my property.”

A female constituent of Ms Lynch's, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her son had contracted pneumonia because her house was suffering from mould, despite work being carried out by cavity wall installers on her property who said the work was being funded by the Government.

She added: "I kept changing my wallpaper and house decorations to cover the mould."

She said a representative from SSB Law later visited her property and promised to pursue a legal claim on her behalf.

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She added: "Because SSB Law was a big company, I believed they were definitely going to help us."

She said SSB took on her case on a no-win, no-fee basis and she was told she wouldn't have to pay anything.

"On December 5 2023, I came home and there was an enforcement letter in my house. I thought it might be a prank, maybe it's not true. It said I must pay more than £17,000 otherwise bailiffs will be called in. That was so shocking.”

After conducting frantic searches online her family concluded that the demands might be linked to the cavity wall insulation claim.

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"We started ringing SSB Law and they were not answering their phones,'' she said. "Can you imagine this? I was a defaulter. My entire credit history had been demoted. My credit card has been suspended. For 10 days, I couldn't sleep. I borrowed some money, I thought about selling my jewellery."

She rang the court to try and gain more time to pay, but she was told she must pay because the debt was in her name.

"My daughter went on Facebook and she saw so many people in the same situation,’’ she said. “One lady was 70-years-old. She needed to pay £38,000. In my street another person paid £15,000.

"It’s really hard for me. Every day, I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to be able to pay this money back?’ It's affected my mortgage and affected my credit history. It's affected my daily life."

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Nige Goodey, who also lives in Ms Lynch’s constituency, said that in early 2016 he was cold called about cavity wall insulation under a Government scheme. Mr Goodey said that, within a few years of work being carried out, the house was starting to show signs of damp in the walls with flaking plaster and mould spores.

He added: "We were again contacted by a legal firm SSB Law based in Sheffield to handle a claim against the installation company to put right the damp problems. After four and a half years of letters, backwards and forwards, SSB Law’s chances of winning the case dropped below 70 per cent. I received a letter dated on August 8 2023 stating SSB had stopped the case even though I had a court date of the December 5 2023.

"I had an ‘After the Event’ insurance policy with SSB Law, which was supposed to cover any liability from the defendant’s costs of the legal action. However, in August 2023 the court ordered the payment of £13,208 in legal fees. I had no knowledge of this, as the letter was sent to SSB Law. The debt was finally settled on October 31.

He added: "My credit scores were badly affected as I discovered I now had a CCJ in my name which will be against me for the next six years after a lifetime of good credit history."The amount of stress this has put myself and my family through is grossly unfair. The construction and age of my property is unsuitable for expanding foam cavity filling and should never have been used in the first place. I'm a widowed sixty five year old who is due to retire this year with an eighteen year old son who will inherit the house eventually. I do not want him to inherit this problem."

The Yorkshire Post made efforts to contact the former directors of SSB via the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the administrators. The directors did not respond to our requests for comment.

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