By My Debt : The story of Jerome Rogers, a popular
19-year-old from a
council estate, who in January 2015, finally got what he had been
working for -
a new motorbike and his first real job as a courier. But when two
fines rose to over £1,000, bailiffs became involved. Some weeks
pay in his zero-hours job was as low as £12, and under the
pressure of his
debt, Jerome took his own life.
How debt kills
Jerome Rogers: 1995 - 2016
By Ashitha Nagesh, BBC, 29 May 2018
Jerome Rogers is 19 years old. He lives with his mum, Tracey, her partner Bentley, his older brother Nat, and his sisters Hollie and Macey in Croydon, South London. Tracey is a cleaner who works four jobs. Bentley is a chauffeur.
This is the story of how the pressure of debt drove a boy to take his own life.
In February 2015 Jerome gets a new job at CitySprint, a company that hires couriers to carry out individual deliveries. His job is to bike around London transporting blood and documents between the city's hospitals - which are dotted all over the capital. He's excited to finally get some financial independence. Although he's worked as a takeaway delivery boy before, the hours were really anti-social and he didn't make very much. Plus, he already has a motorbike - which makes getting the courier job much easier.
Delivering supplies to hospitals is an
important job, and
Jerome needs to be able to get across the city as quickly as
possible. When he first gets the job, Jerome excitedly tells
friends that he could earn as much as £1,500 a month - because
"self-employed". What this means is that Jerome isn't
classed as a
"worker" or an "employee" of CitySprint. He's technically,
legally, in charge of his own earnings. It also means that
he isn't guaranteed a minimum amount of
work in any given week, and he doesn't have any set hours.
He also has to pay CitySprint fees in order
to hire his
uniform and communication devices from them.
JEROME'S BIKE BREAKS DOWN
He can't fix it himself. He's a courier
and needs his bike to take jobs. No working
bike means no money - and if it's out of action for too long, the
stop sending work to him altogether. After seeing Jerome in
despair, trying and failing to fix
the bike in their driveway at home, Bentley offers to buy him a
replacement. The family go to a bike dealership to see if
they can get a
good deal on a second-hand model, but a bright red bike catches
Jerome's eye. The bike is perfect but there's a catch - it's
brand new. Watching the family, a salesman intervenes and
that he can sell him the brand new bike on a zero-interest payment
Bentley is a chauffeur, and is already paying off his car and Tracey's car. But knowing how much Jerome needs the bike for work, he agrees. Jerome promises to pay him back in instalments - which works out at £73 a month. But Jerome isn't worried about paying it off. All he has to do is work a few extra hours and he reckons he'll easily cover it.
"The [courier] agrees that he is a self-employed contractor and is neither an employee nor a worker"
- CitySprint's Confirmation of Tender to Supply Courier Services
What is the 'gig
As a self-employed courier, Jerome is now one
of many young
people working in the "gig economy". The gig economy is where
take on short-term or freelance work instead of permanent jobs.
private-hire cab drivers, food delivery workers, and couriers.
As of April 2018, there are also 1.8 million people in the UK on zero-hours contracts - another notoriously unstable form of work. People in "bogus" self-employment, on zero-hours or short-hours contracts have to deal with erratic shifts and pay, and little work-life balance. They could be working full-time one week, but only a few hours the next. Their shifts are impossible to predict, and their weekly earnings can vary significantly. Zero-hours workers are entitled to paid annual leave and the minimum wage, just like those on more traditional fixed-hours contracts - although half of zero-hours workers are said to be unaware of these rights.
Self-employed contractors like Jerome, however, are not entitled to any statutory rights. Jerome is also not paid unless he's carrying a packet at that moment. So the time he spends travelling to a hospital before picking up a package is essentially unpaid. And because the distance he travels is different depending on what job he takes on, his pay fluctuates wildly too. Usually the assignments he takes on get him about £3 to £6 each time.
THE FIRST FINES
Jerome gets his first fine from Camden Council
Jerome has only just brought home enough money
to pay off
his £65 traffic fine from Camden Council - but if he pays it off,
he'll have no
money left for the rest of the week. He puts the council's letter
to one side,
hoping to sort it out later.
On 28 September, Jerome receives a "notice of enforcement" from Newlyn PLC, a private bailiff company hired by Camden Council to recover unpaid money. One of Jerome's fines has more than trebled to £202, with another £75 "compliance fee" - a fee added by bailiffs - on top.
As the weather gets colder, Jerome's asthma is worsening - making it even harder for him to work enough shifts to take home a decent pay. As his debts grow, his health steadily declines - and so does his pay. Less than a month later, in October, he receives a "removal of goods notice" from Newlyn telling him that he now owes £512. Jerome faces having someone come to his house and take away his belongings if he doesn't pay the newly increased fine.
In November 2015, Jerome receives a letter
telling him that
he's been given "final notice" before they remove his goods.
An Enforcement Agent will be attending your property within
the next few days to remove your goods to settle your outstanding
Just four days later, Jerome gets another text message warning that a bailiff will come to his house to remove his property. Jerome tries to call the bailiff to set up a payment plan, but is told he needs to speak to Newlyn HQ. When he calls Newlyn directly, they tell him that they can't set up a payment plan for him, and that he needs to pay in full - something he just cannot do. He pays off £5, but it feels like a drop in the ocean.
On 10 December, Jerome gets a letter headed:
REMOVAL OF GOODS NOTICE
It says: "Our REMOVAL UNIT is currently operating in CR0 and will be looking to remove your car & household possessions. TELEPHONE 01604 ------ IMMEDIATELY TO DISCUSS PAYMENT."
Jerome's debt has now soared to £1,019. Including the £5 he managed to pay off last month, his debt has increased by £822 in less than four months. He can't ask his parents for help. He knows Bentley is already tied in to three different payment plans - one of which is for his bike - and he is scared of becoming a burden on them. He starts to get more desperate. A Newlyn bailiff visits Jerome's house and says that if he doesn't pay off the remaining £1,019, he'll take his bike.
When Jerome explains that he needs his bike to work - and to make money to pay off the fines - the bailiff says: You've got half an hour to sort this out.
Bentley, wondering what's happening, comes outside to speak to the bailiff. After hearing how much debt Jerome is in he pays off £500 for him. But Jerome still needs to figure out how to pay off the rest.
Contracted "self-employment", zero-hours and short-hours contracts are so insecure that it's much harder for people on them to take out traditional bank loans. With no hope of getting a low-interest loan from his bank - and with the bailiff waiting outside and threatening to take his bike away - Jerome frantically applies for three different payday loans from his phone. Payday loans are quick, easy-to-obtain payments that tie borrowers into credit with high interest rates. Studies have shown that people on zero-hours contracts and in other unstable work situations are five times more likely to turn to volatile, high-interest payday loans to make up for their erratic earnings.
Despite what the Newlyn customer service
Jerome earlier, the bailiff agrees to let him pay off his debt in
instalments. He sets up the repayments in four weekly
£128. Two days before the bailiff's visit, on 17 January,
pay was just £58.38, leaving him with nothing after expenses.
As well as his physical health, Jerome's mental health starts to suffer. He starts looking for help online, and comes across people's personal experiences shared on forums like Reddit. Debt is a topic that is often discussed online everywhere from Money Saving Expert to Mumsnet. These sites, he finds, are full of posts from people in absolute despair. Young people in unstable work like Jerome's are one-and-a-half times more likely to report having a mental health problem compared with those in more secure work.
Dr Alex Wood, a sociologist at Oxford University, has spent the last six years looking at the link between mental health issues and these kinds of jobs. He's found that people in precarious working situations are left feeling more anxious, depressed, and financially insecure.
"Some workers have even told me that they'd be
tears, or would see their colleagues in tears," he tells BBC
"One minute you walk in and you know what you're doing; the next
you walk in and you have no idea. It creates a really stressful
"They put a lot of stress on people," another worker added. "I used to be in tears."
Dr Morag Henderson, from UCL, also tells BBC Three that she had found people in unstable work were at higher risk of mental ill health, as well as poor physical health.
"I speculate that debt might be one of the drivers of this," she says. "It might be as a result of lower income or debt, it might be about low status, or just that uncertainty that people have in their income and lack of job security causing some stress."
She says that 5% of people aged 25 in 2015 - the year that Jerome started working - were on zero-hours contracts, and that there's a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities in unstable work situations.
"Even when they have the same GCSEs, the same A-levels, the same education generally, people from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to end up in unstable work at the age of 25," she says. "So instabilities in the labour market are affecting people disproportionately."
Morag added that being on a zero-hours contract is associated with a 41% lower chance of reporting having good, very good or excellent health, compared to those not on those contracts.
On the morning of 26 February 2016, Jerome receives a text from the Newlyn bailiff. It says: "REMINDER Payment due tomorrow to prevent enforcement at warrant address which may result in seizure of assets and further charges."
After seeing the text, Jerome starts researching suicide online. "Money and mental health are often inextricably linked," Paul Spencer, policy and campaigns manager for the mental health charity Mind, tells BBC Three.
"If you're struggling with your finances, or
debt, you're likely to find that it has a negative effect on your
"Equally, if you are experiencing a period of mental ill health, you may find you're more likely to struggle to pay your bills, or get into other financial difficulties. Three times as many adults with a mental health problem report money problems than those without."
The Newlyn bailiff visits Jerome's house for a second time after not receiving the agreed repayments. This time, he clamps Jerome's bike. When Jerome tries to stop him, he calls the police to report him for allegedly breaching the peace. Jerome needs his bike to work, and has absolutely no hope of paying off his debts without it. Bailiffs are not actually allowed to seize tools of trade that are valued at less than £1,350. At this point, Newlyn has assessed Jerome's bike and valued it between £1,500 and £2,000 - although it will later be valued by Honda, the manufacturer, at just £400. Martin Rogers, parking manager at Newlyn, later admits at the inquest that the company's system was only able to accurately value cars - not bikes.
Later the same day Jerome leaves home. The bailiff, who is still waiting outside his house, is the last person to see him alive.
On 8 March 2016, Jerome is found by his older brother Nat and their family friend Michael Strong. His body is found in an area of the woodlands where he used to play as a child
More than a year later, in April 2017, a coroners' court in Croydon hears about Jerome's money problems in the run-up to his death, and about the bailiff's visits. Nat tells the inquest: "I believe he [took his own life] because he wanted to have no more debt." The family's GP adds that Jerome hadn't had a history of depression or other mental illness. Jacqueline Devonish, the assistant coroner for south London, records a verdict of suicide. "It's evident that he was stressed by being in debt," she says.