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Faced with a debt collector? Know your rights

Posted 30 July 2016 by Christine Walsh

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Struggling to pay debts is stressful enough without the fear of debt collectors turning up. In case you get a knock on the door – it’s important to know your rights.

If you are struggling with debts, it can be tempting to ignore letters from your creditors and hope that the situation will go away. But if you don’t tackle your debt problem head on, it may lead to debt collectors becoming involved. 

A debt collector’s job is to encourage you to pay the debt as quickly as possible, but it’s really important to know your rights. That’s why you should make sure you understand the process that collection agents should follow to help put your mind at ease.

What is a debt collector?

First things first, it’s important to not confuse debt collectors with bailiffs. Debt collectors don’t have the same legal powers as bailiffs. They are not allowed to force entry into your home and remove goods. 

Only bailiffs who have permission from the court can seize your belongings. And even if they have the right to enter your property, they can only do this by peaceful means. Bailiffs can be appointed by the courts to retrieve debts such as parking fines, council tax bills or County Court Judgments (CCJs). 

Debt collectors usually become involved when you’ve missed payments but your creditor hasn’t taken any court action for the debt owed. After a period of missed payments, the creditor may pass the debt to a debt collection agency to pursue your debts on their behalf. The debt collector will then usually begin to contact you by post or by other means such as telephone or email. 

If you’re unsure whether a bailiff or a debt collector has turned up at your door, you should always check their ID card. It’s important you understand the differences between debt collectors and bailiffs, so you know what to expect. They must tell you who they are, which creditor they are hired by and the amount you owe to that particular creditor.

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What are your rights?

As mentioned, debt collectors cannot gain entry into your home by force or threaten you with actions they can’t legally take. They need to state clearly who they are and what company they work for. 

Debt collectors must abide by guidelines and rules set out by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). If you want to see those rules you can do so here.

If you are contacted by a debt collector, there are a few points to remember.

• You are not to be threatened, intimidated or pressured into paying the debt off in one unreasonable large payment. 

• They are not to harass you at unreasonable times or turn up at your place of work.

• You have a right to seek advice and propose reasonable payment options to the debt collection agency. 

• They are not to lead you to believe that they are working on behalf of the court. 

• They are not to tell anyone about your debts, and this includes your neighbours. 

What if you’re faced with a debt collector?

Remember a debt collector is working for the creditors and has not been court-appointed to pursue your debts. You don’t have to answer the door if you don’t want to – you can arrange a phone call instead. If you’d prefer to speak over the phone, the debt collector should acknowledge this and leave your property. 

If you do have contact with them, make sure you understand who they are first and then explain to them your financial situation. Once they know what you can realistically afford to pay, you may be in a position to arrange a payment plan.   

How do you resolve your debts? 

Debt collectors turning up at your door are a warning sign that your debts are getting out of hand. Ideally, you should look to tackle your debt problems before things get too serious to avoid this happening. 

The most important thing is that you don’t ignore your problems and hope they go away. You should seek advice to help solve your situation. You can get free and impartial support from the Money Advice Service. 

You can also speak to a specialised debt advisor. They will talk you through a number of debt solutions available to help you take back control of your finances. Our debt experts here can help you take your first important steps to becoming debt free. We’ll look at your finances and guide you through the most appropriate solution for your situation. 

So if you’re struggling with your debts, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We can help take that weight off your shoulders by finding a solution that’s right for you. You can contact us by using the options to the left of this page.

by Christine Walsh

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.