If you’ve been missing payments related to your debts for a while, you may be contacted by a debt collector. The job of these individuals is to retrieve from you the money that you owe.
A lot of people are unaware of what rights debt collectors have.
Many debtors often confuse debt collectors with bailiffs.
Both of these individuals have highly different powers so it’s important that you know the difference if a debt collector contacts you.
While debt collection agencies can employ a number of different tactics to get you to pay up, you must know that debt collection agencies registered in England have to operate according to rules defined by the Financial Conduct Authority.
What Rights Does a Debt Collector Have?
One common misconception I see a lot of debtors having is that they confuse debt collectors with bailiffs. Debt collectors have no extra-legal powers as bailiffs do. They are not allowed to force their way into your home, nor are they allowed to take your possessions in order to make up for your debts.
If they visit your home, they are not allowed to forcibly take money from you. In fact, you do not even have to open the door for them if you don’t want to. If you ask them to leave the premises, they will have to oblige according to FCA guidelines.
If a debt collector refuses to leave or visits your home again after you specifically asked them not to, you have the right to report them to the FCA.
Debt collectors do, however, have the right to ask you about your payments if the debt you owe is valid. It’s not a good idea to ignore a debt collection agency when they are trying to contact you regarding your debt.
Keep in mind that while a debt collector has the right to contact you via a phone call, they cannot call you during non-work hours.
This means that debt collectors have the right to call you between 9 am to 5 pm but they can’t call you during any other time during the weekdays and not at all on weekends. If you receive a call from a debt collector during any other time, you can report them to the FCA.
Debt collection agencies also have the right to get a court order against you. However, you must keep in mind that this is usually a last resort for a typical debt collection agency.
It usually happens when you have been missing payments for a long time and the creditor that hired the agency is dissatisfied with it. The creditor can then ask the agency to pursue court action against you.
Harassment by Debt Collectors and Creditors
It can definitely be difficult to identify when the actions of a collector may fall under harassment. However, I urge that you be familiar with your rights so that you are able to protect yourself from being treated unfairly at the hands of collectors. The following actions fall under harassment:
- Contacting you via phone several times in a single day or at irregular hours.
- A debt collection agency using more than one debt collector to pursue you for the same debt.
- Your creditor is obligated to inform you if they have hired a debt collection agency to pursue you. If your creditor does not inform you of this before you are contacted by a debt collector, this counts as harassment.
- Contacting you on social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
- Pressurising you to sell your valuable assets such as your home in order to be able to pay your debt.
- Pressuring you to pay the money off as a lump sum or in larger monthly payments than you are able to afford.
- Using letters or forms that are designed to deceive you. For example, some debt collection agencies use letters that are made to look like official court forms.
- Threatening you verbally or physically.
- Attempting to embarrass you in a public space.
- Pretending to be a bailiff or any other kind of enforcement agent that has extra-legal powers.
- Speaking to anyone other than you about your debts. Debt collectors are not allowed to discuss or divulge information about your debts to anyone other than you.
- Implying that court action has been taken against you when it hasn’t. Lying about the fact that they are considering court action when they really aren’t is also a serious offence.
- Implying or acting as if you not being able to pay your debts is a criminal offence. In most cases, being unable to pay your debts is not a criminal offence. In fact, you can seek the help of a debt charity if you feel you can’t pay off your debts. They will assess your financial information and situation to set up a plan for you that would help you get out of debt.
- Taking any of your possessions or property without telling you. Even if they do tell you, it does not matter as debt collectors don’t have the authority to do this. If a debt collector does this or even implies that they are going to do this, you can report them to the FCA or even sue them in court.
What Should I Do if a Debt Collector Does Something that They Do Not Have the Right to Do?
If you feel that a debt collector has acted inappropriately or has violated FCA guidelines, you can opt to take action against them.
The very first thing you should do is collect evidence. This is going to be very important if you expect to win your dispute against the collector. Evidence can be in the form of letters or documents, it can also be in the form of voice notes, phone recordings, and also witness testimony by your neighbours, housemates, friends, etc.
Once you’ve gathered all the evidence, you should send a copy of it to the debt collector in question. Give them all of the information you’ve gathered and ask them to stop what they are doing.
Point out to them that you know what they are doing is in direct violation of FCA guidelines and they don’t have the right to do that. Ask them to send a confirmation in writing that they will cease their harassment. Always remember to keep copies of the evidence for yourself as well.
If they stop harassing you after that, that’s great but if they don’t, the only option you have left is to complain to a professional body. If your debt is against a bank or a credit card company, they may belong to the Standards of Lending Practice. In that case, you would make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You can also complain to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Knowing what debt collectors have the right to do goes a long way in helping you gain your footing during negotiations. Not only will it help you stay calm but it will also help you make better plans towards effectively paying off your debt.