How to keep debt collectors at bay

Over the last four to five years we have seen debt levels reach a crisis point for many consumers and bankruptcies hit their highest level since records began.

This means that more and more people are lying to their spouses and loved ones and turning to alcohol, gambling or even crime in an attempt to solve their problems.

Many people I see or talk to are suffering from depression and contemplating suicide. My concern is that an overzealous credit card company or aggressive debt collector could push them over the edge.

Throughout the years I have been helping people resolve their debt issues one thing stands out: consumers have very little knowledge about or experience of dealing directly with debt collectors and many individuals in debt are often subject to unnecessary harassment by lenders.

In some cases this can be justified, especially where the borrower stops paying and fails to inform their creditors of the reasons why.

In other cases, the debt is so old that the debt collector cannot legally take the matter to court, but they still try to harass the borrower into paying.

However, in many instances creditors work under the rule of “he who shouts the loudest gets paid” and will therefore annoy, badger, disturb, exhaust, pester and torment, to get paid - in other words to “annoy or trouble constantly”, reference: Collins dictionary.

There are many forms of harassment, but these are the most frequently used;

• Telephoning at work, creating embarrassment and fear of dismissal.

• Making nuisance visits or telephone calls at inconvenient times.

• Calling or writing to neighbours on purpose, knowing they are not the debtor.

• Threatening personal visits, this is sometimes detailed in letters giving the impression that creditors have greater powers than they really have.

So, consumers need to wise up to their rights, stand their ground and stop being intimidated into making payments they can no longer afford.

One way to do this is to start collecting evidence of the harassment, which is very easy to do.

• Keep a record of all telephone calls, including the ones you make.

• Note the date, time and name of the person you spoke to, what was said and the company from which they were calling.

• Mark down what day it is because it may be reasonable to telephone you early on a weekday, but 8.30 in the morning on a Sunday is not acceptable.

• Try and get a witness to the harassment such as a friend or family member.

Other useful tips:

• Consider an answer service so that you can screen incoming calls. This could be set up on your telephone line without the need to buy an answering machine.

• If your telephone number is not known to creditors then dial 141 before making calls to them as this will withhold your number

• Contact your service provider to see if they can bar specific telephone numbers to stop unwanted callers, like 'choose and refuse' with BT.

If a lender can't contact you over the phone then its only recourse is to write to you. Therefore, keep copies of all your correspondence to and from creditors for reference purposes.

There are also some useful bits of legislation that might help you:

• Section 40 - Administration of Justice Act 1970.

• The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

• Section 4A - Public Order Act 1986.

• Section 1 & 2 - Malicious Communications Act 1988.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, is another piece of legislation that could help. The provisions of this Act are quite complicated, but it's an interesting piece of legislation with potential repercussions for creditors. 

The Act was introduced to deal with stalking offences but Section 1 can be applied to creditors harassing debtors. A person is guilty of this offence if they pursue a course of conduct that they know or ought to know amounts to harassment of another.

The debtor would need to prove it amounted to conduct, which means it happened on more than one occasion.

The police will not normally get involved and will only express an interest if it concerns a serious offence such as violence, blackmail or fraud.

But in minor cases of harassment it may only require representation to be made to the creditor’s head office, with evidence wherever possible in order to stop a ‘rogue’ employee.

If this fails to stop the conduct then contact the Trading Standards Institute, or the particular Trade Association the lender belongs to.

Another contact is the Office of Fair Trading, which grants consumer credit licences to lenders and will have records of previous complaints against any such creditor.

One important point to bear in mind is that if you are obstructive and ignore all reasonable attempts of contact from the creditor/lender and do not adhere to the contractual or agreed reduced payments, then a creditor/lender will claim in their defence that their action is justified and not many people will argue against this.

Remember, the last debtors prison shut in 1869, being in debt is not a crime, so insist that you are treated properly and politely at all times.

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Your Comments

My friend is 85. Last week when living alone a man broke into his garden and hammered the door. My friend was frightened and took cover upstairs.

The man then fixed a statutory demand addressed to my friend's son on the outside of the front door inside a clearview wallet so that anyone visiting the property could read the demand. The Court had previously required that the 'creditor' should contact the son at his home overseas.

The old man is worried by the threats and behaviour. The police constantly have lack or resources they suggest.