A solicitor in Leicester has helped Irish clients escape more than €1bn (£798m) of debt by taking advantage of a booming trade in “bankruptcy tourism”.

Data seen by the Guardian reveal Steve Thatcher, who runs the new advisory service boasts at least 55 clients in the process of clearing some €1.2bn by using UK courts to wipe out loans taken out in the republic. One property speculator wrote off €150m during a 35-second court appearance.

While bankrupts in the UK face only one year in financial purdah, in Ireland it is 12 years – despite promises of reform from the Dublin government.

Such is the stigma still associated with bankruptcy in Ireland that “Michael” and “Mary” are unwilling to give their real names after they used the UK courts to write off nearly €320,000 of negative equity and other debts. They fear that in Ireland they could be blacklisted from jobs if potential employers knew they were bankrupts.