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What is debt collectors harassment and how to report it?

If you owe money to your creditors then it is possible that they could employ debt collectors to try and reclaim the debts. If they do, it is important that you know your rights and that you take action if you feel you are being harassed.

Debt collectors calling at your home are not bailiffs. This means that they have no right to threaten you or to take away your possessions. Our guide looks at who may be collecting your debts, what constitutes harassment and what you should do if you feel you are being harassed.

Who might be collecting your debt

If you owe money and you are being harassed by a creditor it is important to know who is asking for payment. In many cases, they may not be the people you originally owed money to. This is because your original creditor is allowed to pass the debt onto someone else to collect.

If your original creditor does this, they can no longer chase you for money. And, they must tell you in writing before they do it.

Your debt may be collected by:

  • your original creditor
  • a debt collection agency acting on behalf of your creditor
  • a third party who has bought the debt from your creditor
  • bailiffs

Bailiffs can only get involved once you have been to court for that particular debt and you have failed to comply with the terms of the court repayment order. Debt collectors are different. All they can do is ask you to pay and nothing more.

What does and doesn’t count as harassment by a debt collector

Section 40 of The Administration of Justice Act 1970 provides that a person commits an offence if, with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under contract, ‘he or she harasses the other with demands for payment which by their frequency, or the manner or occasion of their making, or any accompanying threat or publicity are calculated to subject him or his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation.’

There are lots of different ways that a debt collector’s behaviour could be considered harassment. These include:

  • Not telling you that the debt has been passed to a debt collection agency

  • Claiming that they are bailiffs or falsely claim to be working for the court or using official logos that suggest they are court forms

  • Contacting you early in the morning or late at night

  • Pursuing you on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook

  • Pressurising you to pay all the money off, or pay larger instalments that you can't afford

  • Threatening you physically or verbally

  • Telling someone else about your debts or using another person to pass on messages, such as a neighbour or family member

  • Giving the impression that court action has been taken against you when it hasn't

However, there are some procedures that debt collectors are entitled to use that are not considered harassment. These include:

  • Telephoning you to request that you pay your debt

  • Sending reminders and demands for payment

  • Calling at your home at a reasonable time of the day

  • Taking court action

What you should do about harassment by debt collectors

If you feel you are being harassed by debt collectors, there are various steps you should take.

  1. Find out who is collecting the debt

  2. Collect evidence of the harassment – record visits/times, keep letters, get witness statements from people who live with you/neighbours

  3. Write to the creditor harassing you asking them to stop. Warn them that you will take further action if they do not stop

  4. Complain to a professional body if the harassment does not stop. This may be a trade association (for a lender), the Financial Ombudsman (for a bank, building society or credit card company) or the Legal Ombudsman (for a solicitor). You can also contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who will put you in touch with your local Trading Standards Office or you can put your complaint in writing to the Office of Fair Trading

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