Advice column: was I right to refuse to help with a colleague's loan?

Dear Ash

A colleague recently asked me if I would guarantee a loan she had arranged. Failing that, she asked if I could lend her several thousand pounds and she would pay me back somehow. All of this was decidedly out of character for her and while my inclination is to help if possible, being a lender or guarantor does not feel appropriate. It appeared to me from our conversation that there was something else happening in the background. It was also clear that her husband had no idea about it, and there seemed to be a reluctance to involve other family. I feel bad I said no, but should I have offered? Should I have tipped off her husband? Or do I just remain feeling a bit helpless? I’m worried she’s mixed up in something which could prove damaging.

Ash replies:

Money and friendship are a difficult mix which some find akin to a mix of oil and water. There are very few friendships that can survive the turbulence created by the provision of credit by one to the other; effectively the dynamics of the relationship change from friendship to that of lender and borrower.

You have doubts about the reasoning behind the original request for money and this in itself is concerning. If you had lent money or become a guarantor you would undoubtedly then have become more invested in your colleague’s life, and specifically her behaviour in regard to her spending, as you would have had a financial interest as well as any emotional concern.

Therefore I believe you have taken the right decision not to lend money. You clearly have concerns about your colleague, and I’m unclear as to how close you are with her partner, but I suggest that reporting concerns to her family specifically about her finances may be a step too far. Instead you should look to try to support her and to highlight organisations that could help her.

Perhaps suggest lunch or coffee in order to avoid such discussions in the workplace and gently broach the subject then. She may of course not appreciate your input and may reject any help, but you could at least highlight that she could look to seek confidential and objective help from organisations such as Lawcare or Citizens Advice about any issues in order to ensure at least that there is no negative impact on her legal career.

If she is unwilling to seek help and your concerns continue, you may, again depending on how close you are to her partner, just want at least to highlight to him that she seems to be going through a difficult period, without necessarily divulging any details. This could put this onto his radar and allow him to speak to his partner himself.

If there are underlying issues as you suspect, she will need support from friends and family, and it is therefore important that you are able, where possible, to be there for her on an emotional level as this will prove more valuable in the long run than any short-term monetary support.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and other legal professionals, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email: katiewood@lawscot.org.uk

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