If you’ve landed yourself in a lot of debt, then it can be worrying when debt collectors come calling.
You may be worried about what debt collectors will do if you are unable to pay off your debts.
However, it’s important that you’re aware of the regulations that have been put in place by the Financial Conduct Authority.
These regulations exist in order to protect you, the debtor, from any kind of unfair practices that your creditors or debt collectors may subject you to.
Thus, it’s important for you to know that when an agent calls upon you to collect debt, you know what they are allowed to do and what they are not.
What are Debt Collectors and Creditors Allowed to Do?
I’ll attempt to break down and list all of the actions that a debts collector is allowed to do when they are contacting you regarding a debt.
They can Chase You Regarding Your Debts
If your debt is legitimate, then the debt collection agency that has been hired by your creditor has every right to keep contacting you in regards to it. They can either contact you via phone, mail or by house visits. While you cannot stop them from contacting you entirely, you CAN control how they contact you.
If you don’t want them visiting your home or contacting you via phone, you can write them a letter informing them that you only prefer to be contacted via mail. As per guidelines authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK, they will have to oblige. If they keep contacting you regarding your debt via phone after you have specifically asked them not to, you can report them to the FCA.
They Can Show Up at Your Home
As we mentioned briefly above, debt collectors do have the right to show up at your residence in order to ask you about your debts. While they can show up at your residence, you must keep in mind that a debts collection agent does not have any extra-legal powers.
They do not have the right to force entry into your home by kicking your door in or by pushing you aside when you open the door. You do not even have to answer the door for them if you don’t want to.
If a debt collector shows up at your house AFTER you have informed them that you would prefer to be in contact via mail, then you have every right to report them to the FCA or even sue them through court action.
They Can Add Interest and/or Additional Charges on Your Debt
Technically, this is something that your creditor or creditors decide to do. The debt collection agencies registered in England act on their behalf in order to increase the interest as stated by your creditors.
This is completely legal and within the confines of the law. This is why I always urge debtors to settle their debts with debt collectors as soon as possible because if you don’t, there’s a high chance your debt will keep growing.
You can send your creditor a letter requesting them to freeze charges while you get your financial situation in order so that you can start paying them back. If you’re transparent and sincere with the explanation of your situation, it’s likely that your creditor will understand and agree to freeze interest.
They Can Take Money from Your Accounts
Taking money from your connected accounts may seem like an infringement but it’s completely legal according to the law in the UK. As an example, suppose that you have credit card debt and have a current account with the same bank. If this is the case, then they have the right to dip into your account and take the amount of debt that is owed on your credit card.
Keep in mind that while they do not require your permission to do this, they DO have to warn you in advance.
Your Creditors can Apply for a Court Order or a County Court Judgement (CCJ)
You may receive a letter informing you of a court order from your creditor in relation to your debt. It’s important that you fill in any court forms you receive and make a reasonable offer of repayment. The court will then decide how much money you have to pay back in the form of repayment. It’s very important that you stick to whatever the court decides because if you don’t, your creditor has the right to take further action against you.
Your Creditors Can Issue a Default Notice
You may receive a letter regarding a default notice from either your creditor or by the debt collection agency they have hired. These are normally sent to debtors after they miss 3 – 6 scheduled payments. They are a warning to you that your account is about to default. You normally get a time of about two weeks to get your account back on track. If you feel like you need more time, you can write to your creditor and give him the information he or she needs regarding your situation so they can cut you some slack. If the default is granted, it appears on your credit file and stays there for six years. As you can probably imagine, this severely impacts your credit score and makes it very hard to secure credit in the future.
Your Creditors can Issue a Statutory Demand
You may receive a letter from your creditor informing you of a statutory demand. A statutory demand is a document that is issued to debtors by their creditor when the creditor is planning to make them bankrupt. Keep in mind that a statutory demand is NOT a court document, it is issued by your creditor or creditors. Your creditor can only send you a statutory demand if your debts exceed £5,000.
When you receive a statutory demand, it’s important that you never ignore it. You have to prove that you can afford to pay the debt owed to your creditors. If you are unable to show this, your creditors will use the statutory demand as well as your response to begin the process of making you bankrupt.
They are Not Allowed to Harass You
It’s definitely your responsibility to be communicative with your creditors regarding information related to your plan to pay off your debt. However, that does not mean that your creditors or any debt collector they have hired can call you every hour of every single day. Keep in mind that a debt collector is allowed to call you only within reasonable hours on weekdays and not at all on weekends. As we mentioned earlier, they also have to oblige if you request that you’d rather be in contact via mail rather than by phone.
They are Not Allowed to Contact You at Your Workplace
If a debt collector shows up at your workplace or even calls you at your workplace, these are grounds for you to report them to the FCA. This is simply a tactic that shady debt collection agencies employ in order to embarrass you in front of your colleagues. Not only is it malicious, it’s also illegal. You can report the debt collection agency/debt collector the FCA or even sue them in court.
They Cannot Threaten You with Legal Powers That They Don’t Have
A debt collector can definitely threaten you by pretending to have extra-legal powers that he or she certainly does not have. For example, a lot of debt collection agencies make their letters look like court documents and many debt collectors threaten to send bailiffs. This is something that they do not have the power to do. That’s why I always say that knowledge about these things is key so you can never be fooled.
They Cannot Breach Data Protection Laws
This essentially means that a debt collector is not allowed to share your financial information or any details regarding your debt with your family, friends, employer, colleagues, etc. They are only allowed to deal directly with you.
They are Not Allowed to Increase Interest Because You Missed Payments
Your creditors can send you a letter to ask you about why you missed payments. They can even issue a statutory demand if you miss too many of them. However, they are not allowed to increase interest because you missed scheduled money payments. Also, they are not allowed to charge you more for any service that costs less to them. For example, they cannot charge you £50 for sending you a letter if it cost them less than £50 to send that letter to you.
They Cannot Lie to You
A lot of debt collectors can be very unpleasant to talk to but under no circumstances are they allowed to lie to you.
What Should I Do if a Debt Collector Violates FCA Guidelines?
If you feel that a debt collector has breached FCA guidelines, here’s what you can do:
- Collect evidence against the debt collector or debt collection agency. Evidence can be in the form of calls and recordings. Note down the times during which the calls were made to you and what was said during those calls. Be sure to also save and make copies of any letters or documents that were sent to you. Witness testimonies from neighbours or people who live with you can also work as evidence.
- Complain to your creditors/debt collectors. Once you’ve gathered all of your evidence, you can send this in the form of a letter to whoever has been harassing you. Inform them that harassment is a criminal offence and a breach of FCA guidelines. They then have 3 days to respond to you informally. This could be via call or email. A formal written letter may take longer. Also, keep in mind that it’s their duty to inform the FCA about your complaint within 3 days of receiving it.
- Complain to a professional, authoritative body. You should always complain to your creditors first but if that doesn’t work, you can complain to an authoritative body. This can be the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Citizens Advice Consumer Service or the Financial Conduct Authority.
Debt collectors are allowed to perform certain actions when collecting money from you but it’s important that you be aware of when a boundary is being crossed. You, as a debtor, are protected from any kind of harassment during debt collection and it’s essential that you are able to identify when your rights are being violated.