Creditors and debt collectors can phone you about your debts and ask you to pay the money you owe. But too many calls are unreasonable and can cross the line into harassment, which is illegal.
If you are being phoned too often by debt collectors, there are practical steps you can take to stop it.
How many is “too many”?
In this news story, a man kept a record of over 700 calls from MBNA or its debt collector. The judge said, “[There] can be no excuse for conduct of which it must be supposed the sole purpose must have been to make the claimant’s life so difficult that he would come to heel.”
But you don’t have to wait until you have had hundreds of phone calls to try to get them stopped!
There have been court cases where the judges have been quite clear that a creditor cannot continue to contact someone with demands for payment after they have said they don’t want to receive these anymore. See this example from Roberts v Barclays:
“The existence of a debt, however, does not give the creditor the right to bombard the debtor with endless and repeated telephone calls. The debtor is fully entitled to say that he or she does not wish to talk to the creditor. ”
Any of the following are unreasonable:
- multiple calls each day;
- getting calls early in the morning or late at night;
- being called at work where you cannot discuss your financial position in private;
- leaving messages saying you have to call them back on a premium rate number;
- persisting in calling you if you have told them you have a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.
Start keeping a log
The first practical step you should take is to start keeping a diary of contacts from the creditor. Leave paper and pencil by the phone at home so you can note the time, date and who called.
If you get called on your mobile, then add the calls to the paper list at some point using the mobile’s call history for the time. Also log text messages, calls where they left a voice-message and missed calls on your mobile if you can tell who they are from.
Ask them to communicate by letter
The next step is to write and ask for all future contacts to be by letter. It is usually easier and less stressful to reply to letters than to keep receiving phone calls from people who just want you to get your debit card out and pay them immediately.
National Debtline has a template letter on its pages about creditor harassment.
If you have mental health problems, there is a more specific letter you could write here. Keep a copy of all letters that you send to your creditors.
If the phone calls are still continuing two weeks after you have sent this letter, you can start the process of making formal complaints. First, put in a formal complaint to the creditor or debt collector saying that they have ignored your letter dated dd/mm/yyyy – have a look on their website for an email address for complaints and make sure you put COMPLAINT in the email title.
If after 8 weeks you haven’t had a satisfactory answer, take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman.
Avoid taking the calls
It may be worth taking action to avoid getting some creditor calls:
- don’t answer calls on your mobile unless you know the caller;
- get caller-id on your landline phone and talk to BT about options such as call blocking or different ring tones ;
- get a new mobile number.
Of course, none of these should be needed and some will cost money which would be better spent clearing some debt! But if your life is being made miserable, then they are worth considering.
They aren’t allowed to threaten something that they can’t do
Apart from the calls being too frequent, look out for debt collectors that imply they have more power than they actually do:
- they mustn’t suggest you may get visits from bailiffs – that can’t happen unless they first take you to court for a CCJ;
- if the debt isn’t a normal credit sort of debt – loans, credit cards, catalogues, overdrafts – or a utility,, but instead it is a “private debt” between you and a builder or your gym say, then the debt collector can’t add a default to your credit record – see Misleading and Aggressive debt recovery for an example of where one debt collector was threatening to do this.
Are they calling you at work?
There are special rules which say a debt collector shouldn’t try to publicly embarrass you, by leaving messages which could tell your boss or co-workers that you have debt problems. And sometimes you don’t have time or privacy to talk about debts at work! See Are you being phoned at work about a debt? for more details.
Deal with your debt problem
The final practical step you can take is to get a plan to deal with your debts and implement it. You may feel that because you can’t afford to pay them anything there is nothing that you can do. But there is always a way forward with problem debts and ignoring your creditors is rarely a good plan…
If you don’t feel you can cope on your own, then get some free debt advice. See Good places for debt advice – all the ones listed there are charities that will be completely confidential and non-judgmental. They can help you sort through your possible options and decide what to do. And if you need debt management or another debt solution, they can set it up for you.