If you are tackling debt repayments, it’s very important you understand your rights when dealing with creditors, debt collectors and bailiffs.
First we should consider the difference between these, as this impacts what they can and can’t do when collecting your debts:
- Creditor – the company who the debt is owed to.
- Debt collector – they are employed by the creditors to collect the debts on their behalf.
- Bailiff – a bailiff has the legal power, through the court if court action has been taken, to ask you to pay what you owe and if you do not, can take and sell your possessions to raise the money required for your debt repayments.
When dealing with debt negotiations and repayments, it’s important to remember that there are rules in place to ensure that you never feel threatened; here are the ones that you should be aware of:
You have the right to make a complaint, should you feel harassed
Your creditors can contact you with reminders for payments, they can also instruct a debt collector to telephone you asking for payment and to call you at your home, if it is a reasonable time of day. Creditors can also take court action.
However, the line is drawn when contact from creditors and debt collectors starts to take on the same principles associated with harassment. Therefore, you have the right to make a complaint to your creditors and a professional body if they are:
- contacting you several times a day
- contacting you early in the morning or late at night
- using more than one debt collector to chase you
- contacting you via social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter
- threatening you either verbally or physically
- sending you paperwork forged to look like official documents, such as court orders
- not disclosing if your debt has been passed on to an external agency
- implying that they can take legal action, when they can’t
- implying that court action has been taken against you when it hasn’t
Should your creditors or a debt collector do any of these things you have the right to complain about their behaviour and practice by gathering evidence of harassment and taking it higher up.
If you are dealing with bailiffs, they must:
- only visit your property between 6am and 9pm
- not attempt to enter your property if only a child under 16 is present
- not use excessive force to enter your property, unless granted permission
- only enter the property through a door
- look after any belongings they take away
- charge fees and expenses that aren’t allowed by law
- keep any joint owners of belongings informed.
If a bailiff breaks any of these rules, then you can appeal to the court to have your belongings returned.
You have the right to ask creditors to freeze interest and charges
The Lending Code and Credit Services Association Code of Practice suggest that creditors should consider freezing charges and interest if you approach them and notify them that you are experiencing financial difficulty. There is no guarantee they will comply, but they are all bound by those two codes of practice and therefore should take your request into consideration. It’s one right many people do not realise they can exercise and while it’s not guaranteed, it’s a good idea to ask.
You could also look at whether a debt solution could help you. An IVA register for example guarantees that interest and charges are frozen while you repay your debts. If you’re in debt and struggling to make ends meet, it is recommended you seek expert debt advice.
You have the right to dispute debt
If you believe your debt is statute barred – this means it is not enforceable because the creditor has taken too long to chase payment – you have the right to dispute this. Statute barred does not mean your debt has been written off, it simply means the limitation period has expired and creditors can no longer take the debt to court and enforce it. For most unsecured debt types in England and Wales, creditors have a limitation period of six years to chase you for payment. If you also do not believe the amount owed is correct you can dispute this or ask for them to verify the debt.
You have the right to seek advice
When seeking a solution to your debt, bear in mind that you have the right to seek advice. There are various debt management companies out there that offer free, impartial advice and support before assisting you with setting up a debt solution, such as an IVA or a Debt Management Plan.
It’s very important that you know your rights when dealing with debt. Seek free advice and stay on top of your repayment schedule to ensure everything is covered and that you understand what is fair and unfair.