Find out what is unreasonable behaviour, what to do if you are being harassed and who you can complain to.
If you owe your creditors money, they or the agency they have sold your debt to, are entitled to contact you from time to time to collect unpaid bills. However sometimes this contact can become harassment, and below we have listed some instances that can be classified as harassment.
If you are being contacted at unreasonable times of the day or night, being contacted at work without permission, or after you’ve told them to stop then this could be harassment. Discussing your debts with a family member or employer and continuing to contact you for payment when the debt is being disputed is also unacceptable creditor behaviour.
This includes creditors taking payments without your permission,
pressuring you to pay off a debt by borrowing more money, pretending to
have legal powers, using legal or technical language to confuse you, and
adding unreasonable charges, higher than the actual costs of collecting
Harassing behaviour can also include creditors refusing to deal with
advice organisations, or not giving you a fair 'breathing space' after
you've contacted an organisation for help, sending letters that look
like court forms and refusing to give you information about your account
when you ask for it.
Where can harassment come from?
Creditors are entitled to contact you to collect unpaid debts. They can contact you by letter, phone call or home visit.
If you’re being harassed by a creditor it's important to know who is asking for payment. They may not be the people you originally owed money to. This is because your original creditor is allowed to pass or sell the debt onto someone else to collect.
If your original creditor does this, they can no longer chase you for money. If your creditor decides to pass the debt on, they must tell you in writing before they do it.
Bailiffs or Enforcement Agents
A bailiff is someone who has the legal power to recover certain debts on behalf of creditors. Whilst they do have more power than creditors, you can still complain if:
they exhibit harassing behaviour such as threats, intimidation or violence,
use offensive language,
repeatedly call, text or visit you,
tell your neighbours about your debt, or demanding information from them
put pressure on you to pay someone else’s debt
continue to visit or contact you when you’ve already paid a debt
Whilst making a complaint if a bailiff is harassing you won’t cancel your original debt, it will give you a chance to deal with the debt in a way that suits you. The complaint can also give you more time, get belongings back or stop bailiffs visiting.
What to do if I’m being harassed?
If you feel you are being harassed, the first thing to do is to find out who is actually collecting the debt. After you do this, you then need to collect evidence of the harassment, complain to the creditor and complain to a professional body.
Before you make a complaint, gather as much evidence as you can to support your claim. This can include recording the number of visits or calls with dates and times (write down what was said to you each time and who you spoke to). Keep any letters or documents you have received and get witness statements from neighbours or other people who live with you.
Complaining to your creditor
You should write to the creditor who is harassing you asking them to stop. Tell them how you want to be contacted in future and ask them to confirm this in writing.
You should point out in the letter that harassment is a criminal offence and you can take further action if your creditor doesn't stop. Remember to send all letters by recorded delivery and keep copies so that you have a record of your complaint. If you need help writing a complaint to your creditor, drop in to your nearest citizen’s advice to get advice from an experienced adviser.
After receiving your complaint, your creditor must send you a prompt written acknowledgement providing early reassurance that they have received your complaint and is dealing with it. A final response letter can take up to 8 weeks. Your creditor also has to report your complaint to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), even if they respond within 3 business days.
Complaining to a professional body
In some cases, complaining to your creditor is enough and after the complaint is received the harassment stops. However, if your complaint to your creditor does not solve the problem then you may need to consider complaining to a professional body. If you want to complain about a local firm, you can contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service. They can put you in touch with your local Trading Standards Office, who can investigate whether an offence had been committed.
You can also complain to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The FCA has rules and guidance about debt collection. Although the FCA cannot take up your individual case, they can refuse or revoke the firm's authorisation or, for example, fine the firm. It may be worth reminding the creditor that breaching the rules could affect their FCA authorisation.
The Financial Ombudsman Service can also investigate complaints about all debts which are regulated by the Consumer Credit Act – this includes most common debts, including personal loans, payday loans, credit and store cards, overdrafts, mortgages and insurance policies.
Can an IVA help with harassment?
Because an IVA is a legally binding contract between you and your creditors, once your IVA is approved, your creditors will stop calling. This means all forms of contact or legal action demanding payment will stop also. Speak to our expert debt advisers for more information.