PARENTS say they have had their lives torn apart by a private education firm’s ‘heavy handed’ approach to chasing unpaid school fees.

Cognita, a private schools company that runs 66 schools across three continents and more than 30 schools UK-wide, has petitioned for the bankruptcy of seven parents in Slough since 2012 who enrolled their children at the firm's Long Close School in Upton Court Road.

A Britwell couple has faced having to pay more than £40,000 over a three-year period, despite their son only attending an open day at the school.

The boy’s father, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “I got tired, I got angry, I got crazy.

“Everything was taken off me, a current account was all I was allowed to have. I couldn’t have anything more than £500 in my account, every year I had to complete an income and expenditure review.”

The parents applied for a place at Long Close School in 2007, but ended up being allocated a place at a council-run school at the last minute.

Although they had already paid entrance fees, they notified Long Close School of the change, but were informed by Cognita they were still obligated to pay the £1,000 term fees due to the short notice.

They disputed this and claim they did not hear from the school for months, before receiving a letter notifying them of court action as they had breached the school’s regulations.

The debt then increased to more than £3,000. The parents, who are both graduates, continuously tried to pay but they were never given information of where to pay it to, despite repeatedly contacting the school and Cognita’s solicitors.

Then came the petition for bankruptcy from Cognita and four years of misery. The father had no choice but to go for insolvency as, if he had been declared bankrupt, he would have lost his job.

With a combination of fees, interest and legal fees, a payment plan of £1,160 over 38 months, which included a £7,000 cost to fight bankruptcy, was put in place.

The stress of this was so high the father has ground his teeth away and both parents have suffered with depression.

On Wednesday, the family paid their final payment of the £44,080 and say they are looking forward to trying to resume a normal life.

The boy’s father said: “I started to crack up at the end and was off sick. The emotions have gone now but it’s destroyed my professional development.

“It’s the first time I’m going to hold down my full pay in more than three years. I’m hoping to get back to my studies, pay back my debts to my family and give my children a normal life.”

Cognita says it sees petitioning for bankruptcy is a last resort, however other parents have reported a similar ‘unforgiving’ approach.

Councillor Sohail Munawar, who represents Labour in the Elliman ward, was also petitioned for bankruptcy by the company.

He said: “I had an insolvency plan and I wanted to reduce it as I had financial pressures. I contacted Cognita and stopped making payments and the next communication from them was that they were taking court action.”

He initially owed fees of £6,000 but by the time it ended up in court the total had bumped up to £11,000.

Osman Osman, a parent from Langley, says they had no idea they were behind on payments before receiving a letter saying they were £8,000 in arrears and court action was being taken.

Mr Osman managed to raise the cash but Cognita refused to accept it and said he now owed £25,000. He had no choice but to go bankrupt.

Cyrus Medora, of Kidd Rapinet solicitors, a specialist in litigation issues, said bankruptcy can be a costly process at about £1,000 in court fees alone to file a petition against a debtor.

He said: “I do understand that they are running a business and when people owe them money, then they are perfectly entitled to petition for bankruptcy if they think it is appropriate.

“The problem might be that [these parents] didn’t have legal advice or manage to persuade the company to accept payments over time.”

A Cognita spokeswoman said: “The pursuing of unpaid fees through court action is widely used in the independent education sector. [It] is important so that parents who meet the commitments they undertake when choosing our schools do not end up carrying the burden of those who don’t.”