FAMILIES across East Cambridgeshire are facing a bleak Christmas after they lost almost £8,000 in the collapse of a giant festive gifts company. They had invested the money in Farepak Food and Gifts to buy vouchers which could be spent in High Street sto
FAMILIES across East Cambridgeshire are facing a bleak Christmas after they lost almost £8,000 in the collapse of a giant festive gifts' company.
They had invested the money in Farepak Food and Gifts to buy vouchers which could be spent in High Street stores on Christmas presents.
But on Monday, they discovered the Swindon-based company had gone bust leaving them without their vouchers and little hope of getting their money back.
Ely-based agent for the company, Susie Holt, 37, had signed up 28 families to the scheme and only discovered the company's collapse when it was reported on the television news.
She lost £730 and her mother and disabled sister each lost £700 - money they had saved to buy Christmas presents for their children and grandchildren.
Many of her customers were care workers at Ely's Vera James House where she works as a cook.
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She said from her home in High Barns: "I'm totally gutted and I feel so guilty. I thought 'my God, what have I done to these people'. I feel partly to blame.
"I got a letter from the company on September 12 saying 'Well done, keep going. This is too good to miss.' Yet they must have known they were in financial trouble.
"When I heard the news I tried to phone through to tell the people at work but I couldn't. I was in tears.
"Millionaires don't pay into this scheme. They are ordinary people putting away benefit money or some of their wages to provide a good Christmas for their families. The average was around £300 invested over the year."
The company, established 30 years ago, offered people the chance to save money in weekly or monthly instalments paid to agents across the country which could buy gifts, food hampers or vouchers for Christmas.
But on Friday administrators were appointed by the High Court in London to wind up the company.
Susie and her husband have five children, ranging in age from six to 17, and, like other investors, she had paid into the scheme to spread the cost of Christmas. Her teenage daughter also lost £150.
Susie's sister, single parent, Lisa McGlinchey, 39, of New Barns Road, Ely who is in remission from cancer and disabled, had invested money to celebrate Christmas with her first grandchild and her teenage children.
Her mother, Jillian Martin, 60, had saved money from her wages as an assistant cook at Ely's Baird Lodge to buy presents for her grandchildren and great grandchild.
She said: "I feel like cancelling Christmas but I can't let down the family. This has knocked me for six."
Susie, who had been an agent for three years, added: "This scheme was designed to take the weight of Christmas off your mind. You could put away the money over the year and there was no risk of you touching it.
"I can't put into words how I feel about what has happened. I am devastated. Most of my customers had finished paying. Now it's just a waiting game to get this mess sorted out."
The company posted a message on its website on Friday advising customers that no more orders would be delivered.
It warned that customers might get some money back, but not all, and this would not be for many months.
"The company is insolvent. It is unable to pay its suppliers for goods and, as a result, the goods cannot be supplied to you as an agent or your customers," the website stated.
Customers phoning the company were given similar news from an answer phone message and told there were no staff remaining on site to answer queries.