By Andria Kades
People struggling to pay their debts and who are at risk of being sent to prison are encouraged to send a letter, even if it’s handwritten, to the attorney-general, Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou has said.
Speaking on state TV news show Apo Mera se Mera Nicolaou added that police had been ordered to tread more sensitively when it came to such cases, especially if they are carrying out arrests for debt collection.
“People can turn to the attorney-general. There’s no cost to that. They can write a letter to the AG outlining their financial situation, the warrants and debts they owe and a suggestion that they can pay an X amount every month,” Nicolaou said.
Asked if the letter could be handwritten as not everyone may have or know to use a personal computer he brushed away any qualms about formalities.
“Handwritten as well, of course,” he said.
“Is there any difficulty in handwriting a letter whether with their neat handwriting or messy handwriting as long as it’s readable? For God’s sake there’s no issues with that.”
He appealed to people to send their letter as soon as possible as the office receives some 80 letters a day. He promised replies would be sent in three months.
“If there is no procedure set in motion with the AG no one can revoke the arrest warrant so for this reason my plea to all those that have outstanding warrants and cannot repay their debts to turn to the AG in time, even before a policeman approaches them.”
Only the AG can revoke an arrest warrant he stressed.
According to reports, the police chief is already preparing a circular outlining the procedure officers should follow and that they should prioritise people that owe large sums of money.
Nicolaou’s statements come at a time when local TV station Mega broadcast a report about a man imprisoned for a debt of €300 he could only settle when his mother received her pension payment.
Since the beginning of the year until the end of August, 9,892 applicants managed to arrange to pay back their debt in installments after a warrant was issued against them.
The figures, published by Mega, showed there has been a 700 per cent increase in the requests since 2012.
The smallest amount agreed to be paid monthly was €20 where the report highlighted that the meager amount was the only thing separating people prison bars.
It added that there were eight people in prison for debts and 10,000 at risk of joining them.
One man, aged 35 phoned in during a live TV show ‘Ehis Meson’ (you have connections) saying he was living in a car with his wife and two children aged 10 and two and a half.
A Guaranteed Minimum Income recipient for two months, he stopped receiving the money because the family had overstepped the income ceiling by €30 a month. Asked if he had requested emergency help he asked the presenters what number they advised he call because no one picked up the phone.
“We’ve called four or five different lines, the lines just ring.”
His wife has a job earning €740 and for a few days they found shelter in the car. Since the broadcast they have been offered a roof over their heads and financial assistance with one woman donating €50 from her small pension.