If you are in financial difficulty you may get to a point where you have to deal with debt collectors. If you find yourself in this situation it’s likely that you’ll be scared every time you hear the post drop onto your doormat, every time the phone rings and every time someone knocks on your door.
Although it’d be tempting to bury your head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away, unfortunately it won’t. No matter how many letters you throw into the bin unopened and how many times you pretend you’re not in when the phone rings or there’s a knock on the door, they’ll keep coming back and you’ll have to face the problem sooner rather than later.
The good news is that although the debt collectors are obviously trying to recover a debt from you, many of them can actually be quite helpful. But it’s also important to remember that there are a number of debt collectors who will use any means possible to try to extract money from you, even if that means they have be dishonest or even act illegally.
This guide will explain what you should and shouldn’t do if you have to deal with a debt collector, and explains what they are and aren’t allowed to do.
It’s not your fault. Complaints to the Financial Ombudsman have risen this year from 830 to 2,006, so it’s safe to say that you’re not alone.
When Can Debt Collectors Visit?
Debt collectors should give you seven days notice of their intention to visit in writing. This gives you a chance to come to an arrangement with your lender or to repay the amount that you owe in full. If you do that the debt collector’s visit will be cancelled.
If you haven’t come to any arrangement and haven’t repaid the debt during those seven days, you can expect a visit. However, debt collectors are not allowed to come to your home before 6am or after 9pm.
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What Powers Do Debt Collectors Have When They Visit?
What a debt collector can and cannot do will depend on what sort of debt collector they are. Unless they have been appointed by a court they have no legal powers. They are not allowed into your home unless you invite them in and they are not allowed to take any of your property unless you agree to let them take it.
The problem is that even thought this sort of debt collector doesn’t have any legal powers, many of them will claim that they do in an attempt to pressure you into paying them money or letting them take your property. And in fact, some of them will tell you that they have been appointed by a court even if they haven’t been. They may also have documentation that looks official but isn’t.
It’s vital that you check that a debt collector is who they claim to be. You do not have to open the door to do this. You can ask them to put their ID through your letterbox or view it through a window. If you’re not sure, you can contact the court that they claim has appointed them to verify their claim or check the register of certificated bailiffs online to see if they are listed.
If the person on your doorstep has been appointed by a court they will generally be happy to wait while you check that they are who they say that they are. If they try to bully you into letting them into your home you should view that as a red flag and be suspicious.
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So If They’ve Not Been Appointed by a Court, I Can Ignore Them?
Yes and no. Legally, yes. There is nothing that they can do if you simply ignore them and turn up the volume on your TV to drown out the sound of them knocking on your door. They may even decide not to return if they’ve been unsuccessful and it looks likely that future visits will be equally unsuccessful.
If you do simply ignore them, though, there is a risk that they will keep coming back and each time they do, they’ll add more fees to your outstanding balance. If they’re really determined they may well decide to take you to court.
You shouldn’t let them in, but unless you are planning to completely ignore the debt and hope that it goes away it is probably worth telling them that you’re not going to let them in and saying that you will contact the lender to discuss a repayment plan. If they offer you a repayment plan, ask them to put that in writing so you can consider it.
Under no circumstances should you pay any money or let them take any of your property even if they threaten that they will take you to court if you don’t. Neither should you sign any agreements on the doorstep because you won’t have had time to consider the agreement properly. And avoid giving them too many details that could be used against you at a later date.
What If They’ve Been Appointed by a Court?
A court-appointed bailiff does have certain legal powers, but even so, those powers are limited.
Unless they are collecting unpaid criminal fines, income tax or stamp duty you are not required to open the door or let them in. And they are only allowed to enter via a door. They cannot climb in through an open window, for instance.
If you do open your door, they are not usually allowed to enter your home by forcing past you. Neither are they allowed to enter your home if there are children or vulnerable people present.
But the bad news is that if you do let them in and don’t pay the amount you owe or come to an arrangement with them, they are allowed to take some of your belongings to recover the debt and cover their fees. If you do not open your door they make take items that are outside instead. This could include your garden furniture or your car if it is on your drive. In certain circumstances they are also permitted to gain entry by force as a last resort.
If a debt collector visits your home, check that they are a court-appointed bailiff rather than just a debt collector before allowing them in. A court-appointed bailiff will be happy to wait while you do this.
Unless the person on your doorstep has been appointed by a court you should not let them in and should tell them that you will speak to the lender to come to an arrangement. Do not allow them to bully you with false claims. If extreme circumstances you may even need to phone to police to have the debt collector removed if they refuse to leave.
If the person on your doorstep has been appointed by a court they will have more powers, although their powers are still limited.
In either case, you should consider speaking to the organisation that you owe money to in an attempt to resolve the issue because otherwise, a return visit is a distinct possibility. You may also need to consider an overall debt management strategy, which could range from trying to arrange a debt management plan with your lenders to declaring yourself bankrupt.