Harassment During Debt Collection
Though debt collection sometimes becomes necessary, there are legal guidelines regarding acceptable behaviour. Several laws address the topic of creditor harassment of debtors and widely recognized guidelines detail creditor behaviour that is considered unacceptable.
Consumers should familiarize themselves with this information so they know when they are being treated unfairly.
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Administration of Justice Act 1970
Under Section 40 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970, it is a criminal offence for creditors or their agents (such as debt collection agencies) to make monetary demands intended to cause “alarm, distress or humiliation, because of their frequency or publicity or manner.”
Creditors who imply falsely that non-payment will result in criminal proceedings are in violation of the Act. It is also considered an offence if the creditor impersonates a bailiff, court official, or someone else he or she is not. Sending a document that appears to be from a court is another offence of this legislation.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997
Harassment during debt collection is also considered a criminal offence. It can take written or verbal form and includes repeated calls to the workplace or during non-social hours. Under The Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it is a criminal offence when a person takes action that he or she knows, or should know, will be harassing to another individual.
Guidelines for Debt Collection
The Office of Fair Trading, abbreviated OFT, created the Debt Collection and Debt Management Guidelines detailing unfair debt collection practices. These guidelines apply to any account featuring a missed payment or that is in arrears. Within the Guidelines is a section that covers “contacting debtors at unreasonable times and intervals.”
The document does not list the times within which contact should take place. However, it does include examples of times and intervals that could be deemed unfair. Included are making repeated calls during unsociable hours, contacting the debtor at work, and calling neighbours and providing the reason for the call.
What to Do When a Creditor is Harassing You
If you believe that a creditor is not adhering to the OFT Guidelines or has broken a law explained above, you should raise this issue with the relevant creditor or the collector acting on its behalf. Before doing this, gather evidence including the times and subjects of all calls and visits along with any letters or emails considered threatening.
Prepare a complaint letter that informs this creditor or collector that you believe the entity is in violation of the Guidelines or one of the Acts.
Within this letter, request that this creditor or collector cease the behaviour immediately and inform the entity of your preferred contact method and time. If the creditor does not change its behaviour after receiving the letter, you may file a formal complaint with the OFT, Citizens Advice Bureau, or Trading Standards.
If, at any time, the behaviour of the creditor, collection agency, or a bailiff becomes severely threatening or takes on a violent nature, immediately inform the police.