A reader asked:
I work in a Finance Department and I am worried I will be called by a debt collector about a credit card. Can I say I don’t want them to call me at work?
This is a common worry. Whatever your job, you don’t want your manager or your colleagues to know you have money problems. It could be a lender or a debt collector, it could be an overdue bill or a debt.
Creditors should not embarrass you
The FCA who regulates all lenders and many debt collectors says (in CONC 7.9.7) :
When contacting a customer:
(1) a firm must ensure that it does not act in a way likely to be publicly embarrassing to the customer; and
(2) a firm must take reasonable steps to ensure that third parties do not become aware that the customer is being pursued in respect of a debt.
And “publicly embarrassing” includes:
asking others to pass on messages to debtors, and in so doing potentially revealing to them that the intended recipients of such messages are being pursued for repayment of debts.
The debt collector’s trade association, the CSA, says in its code of practice:
When leaving a message, do not disclose the nature of the call or any details relating to the debt, or other personal information.
So you shouldn’t be called at work and have messages left which show that you have money problems. For some creditors, their name alone will make it obvious that you have debt problems.
Often work isn’t the right place to talk about money
Messages aren’t the only problem. If you take the call, you may not want to talk to the lender or the debt collector about why you have missed payments and how much you can afford to pay. In an open plan office, your whole team could be listening to you saying what your rent is, estimating what you spend on food, etc.
Even if privacy isn’t an issue, you are being paid to do a job at work, and you may not have the time to deal with the problem debt.
Tell the creditor how and when they can contact you
All communication with the customer … will be undertaken in a clear and open manner, via the customer’s … preferred method of communication.
So if you would prefer to communicate by letter or email rather than phone, tell the lender or the debt collector you do not want to be contacted at work and say how they should contact you.
If you are happy to be called at home, give times you can be reached. If you are a shift worker, you may also want to emphasise that you should not be called at home during certain times.
Don’t ignore the creditor
When you have told the creditor what your problem is, and then replied to emails or letters, you probably won’t get bothered at work. It’s when customers go silent that creditors keep trying try to find ways to reach you.
If you don’t agree you owe the money tell them why.
If you do owe the money, the easiest option is often a payment arrangement. The key is not to offer more than you can really afford every month, so read Is a payment arrangement right for you? which looks at how to set these up.
If you can’t really afford anything, either because you are trying to pay off some priority debts such as rent arrears or because your income has really reduced, then you have two choices:
- tell the creditor why you are in difficulty and that you are getting debt advice (and actually do this … it’s not a way to just get a few extra weeks, you need to be using the time to get A Plan!); or
- offer a token payment of £1 a month. If your problem is only temporary, this works well. But if you don’t think things will improve, it’s best to get debt advice on better solutions.
If you have a lot of debts or you can’t face talking to creditors, talk to a good debt adviser as they may be able to contact your creditors for you.
If they carry on phoning you at work
Once you have put yourself in the right by contacting the creditor, they should stop calling you at work. If they don’t, start keeping a record of how often they call.
Then after a week, send a written complaint – email is best as it’s instant, you get a copy of it and it is date-stamped – headed COMPLAINT ABOUT HARASSMENT AT WORK. Say:
- how you would like to be contacted and when you have already told them about his;
- say how often you have been contacted at work after you asked them to stop;
- also say what you told the creditor about the debt (do you dispute it? want a payment arrangement? can only make a token payment? are you taking debt advice?)
- if they are a lender, or a debt collector trying to collect a loan, credit card, catalogue or overdraft, say you will take your case to the Financial Ombudsman if they persist in calling you at work as it is publicly embarrassing and you do not have time to deal with it then.
See What you can do about harassment by a creditor for more details.
The Financial Ombudsman’s February 2019 newsletter has an example (147/7) of one of these cases where the customer was awarded compensation:
We pointed out that Denny had specifically asked to be contacted by letter only – and whether he was answering calls wasn’t relevant, as they shouldn’t have phoned him at all. As the calls had continued after Denny had made his request, the agency had breached the FCA’s debt collection guidelines.