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Tackling your debts

Help – there’s a debt collector at my door! Part 1

Posted 30 November 2015

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It can be incredibly scary when debt collectors turn up at your home. Find out what you should do in our blog.

There can be few situations more stressful than a debt collector showing up on your doorstep, especially if you don’t know your rights. However, defaulting on payments and ignoring letters and calls from your lenders may lead to this happening. What would you do?  

Your rights

First and most importantly – don’t panic! Debt collectors are not allowed to come into your home, regardless of what they may tell you. Only bailiffs can enter your property and remove goods. And even then it’s only after they’ve been to court and received a special court order that they are able to do so. If the person claims they can remove goods, you should ask to see the authority they have from the court to do so. They should also carry an ID card, ask to see that too.  

Even if they can produce an ID card, bailiffs have a certain process they have to follow before they can visit your property, including sending you a number of letters before attending your property. One of these letters is a Notice of Enforcement, which you can see a copy of here. If you’ve not had these letters, it is highly unlikely that the person on your door-step is entitled to be there.  

If you're not sure about how to tell if a person is a bailiff or a debt collection agency, it’d be a good idea to familiarise yourself, this article Do you know your debt collectors from your bailiffs? should help. 

Some debt collection agencies are simply a different arm of the company you owe the money to. Like, for example the case of N-Power, who were using another trading name – Collections Direct – to send letters to customers who were behind with their payments. So, you may want to find out if the debt collection company is separate to the company you owe the debt to.  

In order to legally operate in the UK, financial services providers must follow rules set out by the Financial Conduct Authority, which protect your rights as a consumer. These rules provide you with some protection if you’re contacted by a debt collection agency. You can find a summary of the rules that apply to debt collectors here if you want to know more about what they can and cannot do. 

Usually, a debt collection agency will begin by contacting you through the mail with a letter. They may be acting on behalf of your original lender, or your lender may have sold your debt to another firm that will try to collect it. This means you will now have to deal with them, instead of your original lender. 

This is Important! 

Remember, debt collectors are not allowed to harass you. This means that they cannot call you repeatedly throughout the day, at unreasonable hours or at your place of work. They are also not allowed to get people you know involved, like a neighbour or relative, by asking them to pass a message on to you, and they cannot discuss your debts with your acquaintances either.

And, it is unlikely a debt collector will actually visit you at home, as this costs the company money. So it’s usually a last step that’s reserved for when you continue to default on your repayments and have ignored all the correspondence you’ve received from them. If a debt collector does visit, remember what your rights are, and what theirs are too. 

What to do when the debt collector calls

A debt collector is not a bailiff, which means they have no court-appointed legal powers. They can only take the same action that any other lender would to try and reclaim a debt.

If one turns up at your home, here’s what you should remember:

• You do not have to answer the door.

• You should ask them exactly who they’re working for, and if you would prefer to deal with the situation over the phone, tell them that, then ask them to leave. Then call the company they represent and advise them that you will deal with them only by telephone. 

• If you do speak to the debt collector, show them your budget and make clear that you are paying what you can afford to.

• If you ask the debt collector to leave your home, they must. They are not allowed to force entry into your property.

• Debt collectors cannot intimidate or threaten you, and if they do you can report them.

• They do not have powers to take away your possessions, unlike court-appointed bailiffs.

Don’t forget, you can find other places that offer free advice, such as debt charities like the Citizens Advice Bureau or the Money Advice Service, or a debt solutions provider like us for advice on how to act.

For more information on how to deal with debt collectors, have a look at Help - There's a debt collector at my door! part 2. 

by Shelley Bowers

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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.