Owing money can be stressful – and even more so when you start receiving non-stop phone calls from collectors. Fortunately, there are a number of things collection agencies can’t do to you from a legal standpoint. These things include crossing the line into harassment or saying things that simply aren’t true.
Understanding what your rights are can help you stand up for yourself and know when to ask for outside help.
Here are three big things that debt collectors can’t do to you when pursuing a debt.
Perhaps at the top of the list of things collection agencies can’t do is take your property. According to the StepChange debt advice service, debt collectors don’t have any special legal powers. This means that even if collectors do show up at your door, they can’t take anything. You don’t even have to open the door and talk to them. If you choose to, you can open the door and tell them to leave and they’ll have to.
It’s important to note that bailiffs or enforcement agents, on the other hand, can take property from your home as payment for a debt. While bailiffs sometimes work for private companies, they mostly collect council tax arrears or debts related to fines.
Debt collectors cannot claim or imply certain things in an attempt to intimidate you or force you to pay off your debt. For example, they cannot use logos or stamps on their letters that look similar to official court stamps. They also cannot send you letters that look exactly like court notices in an attempt to scare you. They also cannot claim they work for the court or tell you the court has started proceedings against you if it’s not true.
Since commercial debt is not considered a criminal offence, something else collection agencies can’t do is tell you that you can go to prison or have your home taken from you, since this is also a lie.
If you suspect a debt collector is lying to you, take notes during the conversation. Write down the date and time of the call and the name of the person calling you. Since this could be considered illegal behaviour, you might need this information later on to report them.
While a debt collection agency can send you a demand letter for payment or call you repeatedly, they should do so in a ‘reasonable manner’. The line between reasonable and harassment isn’t exact. However, a collector who calls you early in the morning, late at night, or several times in one day is definitely crossing that line. The same is true if the collection agency has several different agents calling you repeatedly about the same debt.
Other things collection agencies can’t do to you include chasing you on social media or telling people you know, including family and neighbours, about your debt. While collectors can contact your family members in an effort to locate you, they cannot ask these people to pass on messages to you or disclose details about your debt to them.
Debt collection agencies that pressure you to take on loans, sell your home, or agree to payments larger than you can afford are also crossing the line into harassment. The same is true if they threaten to have you arrested. Remember, you can’t be arrested for owing money to your credit card company and debt collection agencies have no say on the issue of a warrant.
If you feel threatened or harassed by a debt collector, you should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline. They can help you to figure out how to talk to a debt collector and to understand your rights properly so that you can stop the behaviour.