Your creditors are the people you owe money to. If you owe money to a creditor and stop making payments, they will try to make contact with you to get their money back.
Creditors are supposed to treat you fairly when they are trying to recover their money.
Some types of creditor behaviour are not acceptable, you need to know the signs when you are being harassed by a creditor. Harassment is any action that makes you feel distressed, humiliated or threatened.
If you feel you are being harassed by a creditor, there are things you can do to stop them doing it again.
What counts as harassment?
Check the list below to find out what counts:
- contacting you several times a day, or early in the morning or late at night
- messaging you on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook
- pressurising you to sell your home or take out more borrowing
- using more than one debt collector at a time to chase you for payment
- not telling you that the debt has been passed on to a debt collection agency
- using letter styles or logos that appear to be official when they’re not, for example sending you letters that look like court forms
- not considering your affordability by demanding you to pay all the money off, or in larger instalments when you are unable to
- threatening you physically or verbally
- ignoring you if you say you don't owe the money
- trying to embarrass you in public
- telling someone else about your debts or using another person to pass on messages, such as your neighbour or family member
- falsely claiming to work for the court or be a bailiff (enforcement officer)
- suggesting that legal action can be taken when it cannot be, for example, implying that your home can be taken from you without a court order
- giving you the impression that court action has been taken against you when it hasn't
- giving you the impression that not paying the debt is a criminal offence. For most debts, it is not a criminal offence if you don't pay them.
What does not count as harassment?
Creditors are allowed to take reasonable steps to get back the money you owe them so not all action taken by a creditor can be called harassment. Creditors are allowed to take reasonable steps to get back the money you owe them, including:
- sending email, texts or written reminders and demands for payment
- sending you a default notice (consumer credit debts)
- calling you to ask for payment
- calling at your home, as long as this is at a reasonable time of the day
- taking court action.
Which creditor is collecting the debt?
When you’re being harassed by a creditor it is important to know who is chasing you. They may not be the people you originally owed money to, this is because your original creditor is allowed to pass the debt onto someone else to collect. If your original creditor passes your debt on, they can no longer chase you for money. and they must tell you in writing before they do it.
Your debt might be collected by:
What can you do about it?
Once you know who is pursuing you fo the debt, you will need to follow these steps:
- gather evidence of the harassment
- raise a complaint with the creditor
- raise a complaint with a professional body
Before you make a complaint, get as much evidence as you can to support your claim. This can include:
- recording the number of visits or calls with dates and times. Keep a record of what was said to you each time and who you spoke to
- letters or documents you have received
- witness statements from neighbours or other people who live with you.
Complaining to your creditor
You should write to the creditor 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 does not stop. If you can afford to, send all letters by recorded delivery and keep copies so that you have a record of your complaint.
After receiving your complaint, your creditor has 3 business days to respond informally. This could be by phone or email. A final response letter might take longer. Under regulation, 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
You should complain directly to the creditor first but if this does not solve the problem, you might also want to complain to a professional body too. Your debt collector may belong to a trade association or professional body with a code of practice that sets out how they are supposed to behave towards you.
You can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer service who can help. They may be able to refer your case to Trading Standards.
In Northern Ireland, you can contact Consumerline at www.consumerline.org.
To find out if your lender belongs to a trade association which has a code of practice, see the further help section at the end of this page. The trade association may also take action against its members who break the code of practice.
If your complaint is against a bank, building society or credit card company, they may belong to the Standards of Lending Practice.
The Standards of Lending Practice set out principles that its members should follow. These include:
- not harassing you or putting too much pressure on you.
- telling you how to get debt advice.
- providing support if you are vulnerable, for example if you have physical or mental health problems.
- using trustworthy debt collection agencies who also follow the Standards of Lending Practice if the debt is passed on or sold.
You should complain to the bank, building society or credit card company first, using their complaints procedure. If the problem is still not sorted, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service, explain to them that a debt collector or creditor has broken the terms of the Standards of Lending Practice.
Complaining about a solicitor acting for a creditor
If a solicitor is harassing you on behalf of a creditor, this is considered to be professional misconduct. To make a complaint, you will first need to use the firm's internal complaints procedure. If this does not resolve the problem, you can complain to one of the professional associations. To work out which association you should complain to, you first need to check where the solicitor is registered.
If they are registered in England or Wales, you can complain to the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA) at www.sra.org.uk. If they are registered in Scotland, you can complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) at www.scottishlegalcomplaints.com. If they are registered in Northern Ireland, you can complain to the Law Society. Visit: www.lawsoc-ni.org.
Complaining to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service
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.
In Northern Ireland, you can contact Consumerline at www.consumerline.org.
Complaining 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.
More about the FCA rules and guidance on debt collection is in the FCA's Consumer Credit Sourcebook at www.fca.org.uk.
You might have borrowed money from a money lender who is not regulated. These lenders are often called loan sharks and they may physically or verbally threaten you if you can't pay back the money. They also charge very high rates of interest, which means you may end up owing much more money than you originally borrowed.
It is important to remember that loan sharks are breaking the law by lending you money in this way. They are not able to enforce the high rates of interest they are trying to charge. You cannot be legally made to pay back the money and you have not broken the law if you do not pay it back.
If you are being harassed or threatened by a loan shark, you can report them in confidence in the following ways:
T: 0300 555 2222. Calls, including mobile phones, will be charged at local rate.
Text/SMS: text loanshark and your message to 60003. Texts will be charged at your network's standard rate.
Trade and professional associations
Your creditor may belong to one of the following trade or professional associations which have a code of practice that its members must follow. You can find a list of members on the organisations’ websites:
Consumer Credit Trade Association (CCTA)
Suite 4 The Wave
1 View Croft Road
T: 01274 714959
Credit Services Association
2nd Floor East
Newcastle upon Tyne
T: 0191 286 5656
Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
25 The North Colonnade
Consumer helpline: 0800 111 6768 (freephone), 0300 500 8082
The Finance and Leasing Association
15 -19 Kingsway
T: 020 7836 6511