Harassment

Debt collectors often overstep the mark when attempting recovery of a debt and may hassle you at all hours on both your home and mobile numbers and sometimes even at work! They may also threaten home visits. There in no reason why you should put up with all this, you are under no obligation to speak to them when all communications can be in writing.
Phone calls

Debt collectors love using the phone, even when they write to you, their letters will often have very large phone numbers inviting you to call them. DON’T!

Avoid communicating with debt collectors and creditors in general over the phone. Keep it all in writing. If they ring you, avoid answering their security questions. Do not ring them to discuss anything. If you have something to say, put it in writing.

Do Not CallDebt collectors should not harass you to make you pay. They’re not allowed to constantly phone you, visit you at home or hassle you in public. They should also keep their attempts to contact you within reasonable hours too.

They have to respect your wishes and requests to be contacted only in writing and not insist in using other means such as phoning or texting. You should inform them in writing that you only wish to be contacted by post.

In Roberts -v- Bank of Scotland the Court of Appeal upheld an award of damages against the Royal Bank of Scotland for harassment. The case was brought as a civil claim under section 1 (1) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which provides:

“A person must not pursue a course of conduct (a) which amounts to harassment of another and (b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another”.

According to the Bank’s log, 547 calls or attempted calls were made to the claimant from December 2007 to January 2009. In its defence, the Bank admitted making a large number of phone calls to their customer but denied that these amounted to harassment. The Bank asserted the calls were reasonable attempts to contact its customer and counterclaimed for £10,941.37 outstanding on the customer’s accounts.

The Court of Appeal held that

  • it was clear that the customer was in breach of contract by exceeding her overdraft,
  • that the bank was entitled to contact her to “seek a mutually acceptable resolution of the problem”,
  • the existence of the debt did not, however, give the creditor the right to “bombard the debtor with endless and repeated telephone calls”.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the County Court which had awarded the claimant £7,500 in damages. (The court had also given judgment to the Bank in favour of the sum counterclaimed, which was not in dispute).

37. The existence of a debt, however, does not give the creditor the right to bombard the debtor with endless and repeated telephone calls. The debtor is fully entitled to say that he or she does not wish to talk to the creditor. In those circumstances, the creditor is thrown back upon his formal legal remedies. That is what the courts are there to provide. They are there to ensure that creditors do not resort to the remedy of self help.

38. In the present case, the claimant made it abundantly plain that she did not wish to receive telephone calls from the bank. She was perfectly entitled to adopt this position. Once the bank had tried to telephone the claimant a few times and had received the same response on each occasion, it was obvious that telephoning the claimant would achieve nothing. Thereafter, there was no possible justification for continuing to ring the claimant up.

39. The judge took the view that the content of the phone calls made by the bank, combined with the frequency of those calls, constituted harassment. The bank challenges that conclusion for the reasons which I have summarised in Part 4 above. I will address those arguments in the order set out in the appellant’s notice, bearing in mind the very helpful submissions with which Mr Counsell has elaborated those grounds today.

40. The first argument is that the judge failed to take into account the context in which the calls were made, in particular the fact that the bank had good reason to telephone the claimant. Mr Counsell found himself in considerable difficulties when developing this line of argument. The court, prompted by paragraph 12 of the claimant’s particulars of claim, asked Mr Counsell to address the period 8 January 2008 to 11 February 2008 when there was a large number of phone calls and the content was particularly unpleasant. Mr Counsell explained that during this period the claimant had exceeded the limit on her credit card account. We asked by how much. Mr Counsell told us that the limit was £2,700. On 25 January 2008, the balance on that account was £2,789. So the claimant was £89 over the limit. At the end of the relevant period, the balance was £2,717. So the claimant was £17 over the limit.

41. During this period, as the judge found and as the appellant now admits, the bank had wrongly frozen the claimant’s current account. A sum of £450 housing benefit was paid into the current account, which the claimant could have accessed if the account had not been frozen. That was more than enough to pay the small excess on the credit card account. Indeed, if the account had not been frozen, the bank could, and no doubt would, have, transferred funds across from the current account to the credit card account to resolve this matter without the need for any instructions from the claimant. Mr Counsell confirmed in answer to Arden LJ that the bank had this power.

42. I therefore take the view that the calls which the bank made during the period 8th January to 12th February 2008 were wholly unwarranted.

If you are unhappy with the amount of phone calls you are receiving or if they are calling you at work, you should send the letter below.

Home visits

doorknockDebt collectors often threaten to send an agent to your home and many people find this idea very distressing. Many people are not aware that debt collectors are not bailiffs and they think they can force their way in and seize goods, this is not the case.

There is also the potential embarrassment associated with being visited by a debt collector, particularly if you live with someone who is not aware of your debts, they happen to call when you have guests at home or interact with your neighbours.

Debt collectors are not bailiffs, they have no right to enter your home, nor do they have any powers to seize goods.
The majority of threats of home visits are just empty threats since it’s a lot more cost-effective to send threatening letters than to send actual field agents or doorstep collectors to your home.
You are under no obligation to speak to a debt collector that visits you at home.

If you are concerned about a threatened home visit, you can send the letter below.

Written threats

When sending you letters, there are certain things creditors should not do:

  • threatsSending letters made to look like claim forms, judgments or any type of correspondence from the courts
  • Saying that the debt is subject to a judgment when no judgment exists
  • Sending letters headed by fictitious law firms or non-existent companies
  • Threats of criminal action, arrest, imprisonment or police involvement for civil debts
  • Threatening to contact a third party (such as your employer)
  • Threats of enforcement through bailiffs, attachment of earnings orders, charging orders, etc. without making it clear that they would have to obtain judgment before taking such enforcement action
  • Threatening service of a statutory demand or bankruptcy for debts below the bankruptcy threshold (currently £5,000).
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