You’re in debt but what can your creditors actually do?

posted by in Bailiffs, Client info, Collection Process, Debt, Debt Law

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There are a lot of misconceptions about what creditors (your lenders) can and cannot do. We hear from clients that are scared stiff of bailiffs or being sent to prison when they’ve only missed one or two payments or just received a default notice or a CCJ (county court judgment) through the post.

A lot of action by creditors will be scare tactics to encourage you to make extra payments, so it’s useful to know what your rights are to help to put your mind at ease.

Knowing what creditors can and cannot do and understanding the debt collection process can help to remove a lot of worry and uncertainty.

What can creditors do?

  1. They can chase you for the debt by phone or letters; see our blog about what to do if creditors keep phoning you.
  2. They can send doorstep collectors; it’s really important to realise that these are not bailiffs and have no more power than someone ringing you. It’s unusual for a high street lender to use doorstep collectors as it’s still cheaper and more effective for them to call you.
  3. They can continue to add interest and charges to your account in line with the original agreement, provided that you’re not in a legally binding solution (such as an IVA, DRO, administration order or bankruptcy).
  4. They can take money from connected accounts. For example if you have a credit card and a current account with the same bank they can dip into the current account and take what is owed on the credit card; they don’t need permission from you. This is called the right of offset.
  5. They can issue a default notice, usually sent after 3-6 missed payments. This is something your creditors are legally required to send once you have defaulted on the original agreement.
  6. They can pass the debt on to an internal or external debt collection agency. These don’t have any more legal powers than the creditor.
  7. They can apply for a county court judgment (CCJ). If you receive one of these you must fill in the paperwork and make an offer of repayment for the court to consider. The court will set a repayment and it’s important that you stick to this.
  8. Some collection agencies issue a statutory demand, a way of enforcing bankruptcy. However in most cases these are used as scare tactics and it’s very unusual for creditors to actually enforce these.

What can’t creditors do?

  1. They cannot harass you; you have a duty to keep your creditors informed of your situation but that doesn’t mean they can ring you every hour, day after day. Request that they only contact you in writing and make sure you open your mail. You can read more about debt collection guidelines on the Office of Fair Trading website.
  2. They cannot break data protection laws, so they cannot speak to your family, friends, neighbours or an employer.
  3. They also cannot stalk you on social media – see our blogpost 10 ways to stop debt collectors finding you on social media.
  4. They may threaten bailiffs but unless you have defaulted on a CCJ then what they actually mean is a doorstep collection agent. This is often used as a scare tactic and anyone who calls at your property has no more power than someone calling you on the phone. You can just ignore them (unless they are from the courts or the debt is for Council Tax).
  5. If you do get county court paperwork through the post and you make an offer to the courts that the judge accepts, the creditors have to abide by it as well.

What experiences do you have with creditors? Post a comment and let us know. And if you’re going through the mill with your creditors at the moment, get free debt advice from StepChange Debt Charity now.

Pavan Gata-Aura is a qualified debt advisor with 6 years of experience. She enjoys spending time with her two children, fundraising for charities, has spent time volunteering in Africa and takes part in organised races.

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Tags Bailiffs Client info Collection Process Debt Debt Law
  • moneyaware

    Hi Roxy,

    You can only receive one default per debt on your credit file, so you shouldn’t receive any more defaults for this debt.

    However, it’s possible that payment history will accumulate on your credit file and if you break an agreement Lowell may report this on there.

    Payment plans only work when the payment you’re making is affordable and fits in with the rest of your commitments. If you’re finding the current payment unmanageable then I’d suggest getting in touch with Lowell and renegotiating.

    If you’d like a bit of advice and support before getting in touch then I’d recommend you speak to one of our debt advisors. Here’s our contact details:

    Kind regards


  • Steve

    Lowell portfolio purchased a credit card debt I had four years ago. I have recently received a summons through Bryan Carter solicitors. I have always thought that debt purchases were unable to take you to court and that could only be done by the original creditor

    • moneyaware

      Hi Steve,

      If a debt has been passed or sold on it becomes the responsibility of the new creditor for payments and also further action including county court judgements (CCJ).

      If you’re struggling or need help, then we’d be happy to offer our advice and support if you’re unsure what to do next.

      Details of how to get in touch with us are available at

      I hope this helps,


  • Pingback: You’re in debt but what can your creditors actually do? | StepChange MoneyAware |

  • Rach Pope

    Can creditors make you pay more than your paying if you say you cant afford more and can they take you to court if you havnt missed a payment

    • moneyaware

      Hi there, thanks for getting in touch.

      Your creditors cannot force you to pay more than what you can afford. Your living expenses (food, rent, mortgage, council tax, utilities etc) are most important and must be paid on time. You would then pay your unsecured debts from the money left over once you’ve accounted for your living costs.

      Your creditors don’t take you to court as such, but they can eventually apply for a county court judgment against you should you fall behind on payments. There’s always something that can be done to make things more manageable however, and you can request that the court puts a regular payment in place on the CCJ that is realistic based on your circumstances.

      If you feel that you need debt advice, our online Debt Remedy advice tool can help you put together an action plan in approximately 20 minutes:

      Hope this helps

      Best regards


  • Rach Pope

    Thankyou for getting back to me, I had a payment plan put in place by the cab which I havnt fallen behind with but they keep telling me thst unless I up my payments they will take me to court so I just wanted to check if they could do this

    • moneyaware

      Hi Rach,

      The creditor is allowed to apply for a CCJ if you’ve defaulted on the agreement and they’re unhappy with how much you’re paying.

      As Rachel mentioned though, even if this did happen the court would normally consider your budget and put a realistic and fair arrangement in place.


  • Timmy

    i was wonder could you give me advice on debt from abroad?

    I have unsecured debt, mainly credit card in Republic of Ireland but i have lived in UK for over 3 years.
    I have recently fallen behind on the last few months payments due to job change but will pay what i can when my finances are back on track.
    My UK commitments are my priority now as i will never return to live in Ireland.
    Can an Irish CC company do anything to me in UK? Take my house, CCJ or affect my UK credit rating? Nothing shows on my UK credit rating for Irish debt but can they if it went to court in Ireland?

    Thanks in advance

    • moneyaware

      Hi Timmy,

      Our debt advice covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but we’re not able to answer specific questions related to Republic Of Ireland because of the differences in debt law.

      It’s unlikely that debts can follow you to the UK though, as a debt based ‘abroad’ should not show on your on your credit report in the UK.

      If you’re looking for more specific advice then I’d recommend contacting MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) based in the ROI. You can visit the website at

      I hope this helps,


      • Timmy

        Thanks Rory,
        Seems to be a very grey area… MABS are unsure also.

        It’s seems that they will chase you all over world but can not actually enforce anything without great difficulty. Most advise seems to be scare mongering “you will go to hell” etc if you are behind.
        I have spoke to bank and they were less than helpful.

      • moneyaware

        Hi Timmy,

        I’ve made some changes to your previous answer based on some more information we have on this subject.

        I hope this helps.


  • moneyaware

    Hi Tony,

    This sounds like it’s quite a stressful situation. There are a few different issues, so I’ll try to seperate them out and offer some guidance.

    Issue 1) – The costs involved with the minicredit loan. It’s not uncommon for these types of debts to became much larger than the amount originally borrowed. Whether they’ve acted fairly in this case will depend on what was signed up to in the original agreement.

    The best thing to do would be to make a written complaint to mini credit, laying out exactly what you’re unhappy with and giving them a chance to respond.

    If they reply and your still unhappy (or they don’t reply within 8 weeks) you can then ask the Financial Ombudsman to investigate. This means you can get an independent decision on whether the account has been dealt with fairly withotu involving the courts.

    2) Not being told about the fees on your debt management plan. I’d expect any debt management plan provider to be very clear about the fees they are charging. If this hasn’t happened then you should make a complaint to your provider.

    Again, if your unhappy with the response to this complaint you can refer it to the Financial Ombudsman to investigate.

    3) Paying for a debt management plan(DMP). It is possible to get a DMP free of charge, which means all the money you pay goes towards debts.

    We here at StepChange Debt Charity are one of the place you can get a free DMP, but we’d only recommend it after we’ve gone through your details and are sure it’s the right thing for your situation.

    If you’d like to find out about whether a DMP is your best option or if there’s another solution to deal with your debts, then I’d recommend using our online Debt Remedy tool:

    Kind regards


  • Sue Smith

    Hi, I wonder if you can help me. We owed our landlord arrears but agreed that I would do some work for him in return for clearing the debt. (He’s in prison so doesn’t have access to a lot of information that he wanted). We’ve now been given notice to quit our property by the trustees of the house and the landlord says we still owe him a larger sum than was originally claimed but we have no idea, nor has he ever offered to provide, how much he has reduced the debt by for my helping him. How much can he claim if he doesn’t have an exact figure of how much he says we owe him?

    • moneyaware

      Hi there, thanks for getting in touch

      Unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to competently advise on this matter. The best people to talk to about this would be the housing and homelessness charity Shelter:

      Best regards


      • Sue Smith

        No problem, thank you Rachel

  • Welsh_Patriot

    Just on a note here, looking through StepChange’s site seems to drum up images that every debt MUST be paid. This may be just a bit of casual advice, or it could just be a rouse to trick you into believing that is actually so.

    I am in NO way advocating dodging any debts you may have, after all many of us encounter problems and are unable to meet our commitments, and that is no one’s business but our’s unless we choose to share the details.

    In my personal experience, creditors have sold the debt’s onto 3rd party Debt Collection Agencies, who then churn out the usual threatening PAY UP OR ELSE malarky, yadda yadda yadda. if I had known what I know now, I would never have got StepChange involved in the first place, as when a payment is actually made to a DCA, it constitutes responsibility for the alleged debt!

    if the debt is sold to a 3rd party, then advice given here or not, that debt, (wheather actual, or in one case of mine, actually made up!), you can ask the DCA to provide the PROOF the debt is actually owed, that proof must include any statements so far of payments, address and name of the alleged owner at the time etc. Within 8 days. There is a small charge of £1 (postal order) for this information, but template letters are available to send with this if you are not confident writing your own.

    BUT my friends, if the debt is passed to a DCA, technically it becomes theirs, therefore if you actually owed it, technically it is null and void, and nowt is owed.

    YouTube is an invaluable source of information, many people put up videos showing phone calls to DCA’s, and generally pointing out what I have just said, just watch as the DCA “agents” or whatever they call themselves, struggle when confronted with just a few simple points.

    no doubt (if this even get’s online), StepChange will chirp up saying this is just total nonsense, but if you DO have DCA’s who have contacted you, just YouTube dealing with uk debt collectors BEFORE you make a payment to them, or feel threatened or intimidated into asking StepChange for help.

    Sorry for the long winded post, just wanted to share what I have learned over the months with you good people.

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  • moneyaware

    Hi Furry,

    Sorry to hear that you’re finding it difficult to repay the overpayment. Often you might find that creditors ask for more than you can realistically afford, but that doesn’t always mean that there’s no alternative options.

    I’d recommend that you speak to us so that we can talk about your situation and discuss your options going forward. You can find details of how to get in touch with us by visiting

    If you’d prefer to get help from us online then you can use our free, anonymous Debt Remedy tool which will use information about your budget, debts and living costs to find a solution to help deal with the debt. You can do this by visiting

    I hope this helps, we look forward to talking to you very soon.


  • Manic_Psycho


    I am wondering if you can please give some advice

    I work in ireland and I was suddenly contacted today to my work email address that they want to send me papers from debt that I supposedly owe to a Norwegian bank from 2009, do I am Norwegian I was not living in Norway at that time so I have no idea what it is about.

    But I am wondering if a british debt collection company can contact a work email address even do I have informed them that this is against company policy and threaten to send papers to my work address.

    According to Irish law no debt collection company or company in general can contact anyone at work without prior consent, so this is in breach of Irish law, but it seem really strange that they think that they can proceed like this.

    If they send the papers here then I will sue them.

    • moneyaware

      Hi there,

      We often hear of debts that have been transferred from other countries and this is something that is usually allowed to happen as long as the creditor complies with the debt law in that particular country.

      We’re not sure if you are referring to the Republic Of Ireland or Northern Ireland and we can only currently offer advice for debts based in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

      I’d suggest getting in touch with MABS who can offer specific advice for Irish debts.

      Hope this helps,


  • moneyaware

    Hi Ali,

    Thanks for your message and sorry for the delay in replying. Bailiffs are not allowed to take your brother’s property to pay off a debt you owe. They are allowed to take items which are jointly owned, and your brother may have to show proof that the items are his. You can read a bit more about what bailiffs can do here:

    Our stance is that if you owe a debt you should do what you can to pay it back. You mention you live abroad, but as your debt is a UK debt we are still able to help you. We can look into your financial situation, work out a budget with you and discuss what your best options are for dealing with the debt. You can find more information about what we can offer you and how to get in touch with us from outside the UK here:

    Kind regards,


  • gavin

    Hey, I have a loan with a company, last night I tried to make my o line payment but it wouldn’t go through. I rang them today and they told me they no longer do loans (Lloyds tsb) and all existing loans have been sold onto another creditor / company… By law do I have to pay this company? I have no agreement or signed documents with them? All I’ve been told is “they will contact me soon”

    Any advice is iseatly appreciated.

    Tha k you,


    • moneyaware

      Hi Gav,

      While your circumstances seem fairly unusual, it is possible for debts to be transferred from one creditor to another.

      This most often happens if payments have been missed and a debt get passed to a debt collector. Another example would be if a company went bust and a different company took over there debts.

      It seems strange that the debt has been transferred already and you’ve not yet been notified of the new company taking over or been given details of how to make payments.

      You could consider making a complaint to the original loan company about how they’ve handled the transfer of your accound (or the new company once they reveal themselves).

      So in summary, I don’t think they’ve done anything wrong in transferring your account to another company, as this is fairly common practice but it sounds like the transfer has been dealt with clumsily.

      I hope this helps.


  • MO

    Hi there, I signed a finance agreement with a hair clinic in Harley street costing 1800 pounds . The treatments requires four or more sessions to be completed however, after the first session I’m not happy with my results add that to the fact that my financial situation changed and I’m not longer able to stick by the agreement. I emailed them and told them about my situation I also emailed the finance company the finance company told me we can cancel if your retailer tells us to cancel however, the hair clinic do not want to cancel and if I do they told me they gonna ask for the full 1800 pounds and I’m unable to pay that amount as I didn’t complete the procedure I ask them to charge for one session and they also refused can you please advice me

    • moneyaware

      Hi Mo,

      This sounds like a tricky situation. Unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to advise regarding the contract you have entered into with the hair clinic.

      Your first step would be to try to resolve the situation with the clinic. It might be worth giving the contract you signed a read to see if there’s anything in it about being unhappy with the service and what rights you have in this situation.

      It might also be worth getting in touch with Citizens Advice to see if they can advise you on any rights you may have as a consumer, you can find their website here:

      If you do need to repay the money and would struggle to do so, you can give one of our advisors a call who would be happy to have a chat about the situation and help you come up with a plan to deal with the debt.

      You can find out how to get in touch with us here:

      I hope this helps,


  • moneyaware

    Hi Carol,

    Thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like a stressful situation.

    It doesn’t sound like this debt to Virgin Media has gone through court, so they aren’t in a position to send bailiffs (also known as enforcement agents) at this stage.

    I’d suggest giving our Helpline a call and we’ll be able to tlak yo through your options. Here’s the contact details:

    You could also consider making a complaint to Virgin Media about the problems you’ve had with their customer service.

    Kind regards


  • moneyaware

    Hi Pete,

    Thanks for your message. Creditors don’t have to wait a specific amount of time before passing the debt on to a debt collector, although 22 days does sound like a short amount of time.

    I’d suggest you get in touch with the insurance company and ask them for a breakdown of the debt. You can use our ‘right to information’ template letter as a guide:

    We can’t help you to dispute the debt, but if you aren’t happy with the information they send you can complain to the company. If you’re still not satisfied, the next step would be to lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service:

    If you’re worried about the impact paying off the debt might have on your financial situation, we can give you free advice and help you put together a plan to deal with the debt. You can find our contact
    details here:

    I hope this helps.

    Kind regards,


  • Kate Williams

    Hi friends, i can’t believe this. I just got a legitimate loan from a loan lender base in USA. I got their email when i was searching online for a loan. I found a comment who was narrating how she got her loan from them. initially i didn’t believe her because i have been scam several times by people claiming to be online loan lenders. But because i was in desperate need of money to pay off my bills, i decided to try again. so i email them. When i did, i was surprise the sum of $250,000 which i had earlier applied for was wired into my account even when i have bad credit. So i want to advice anyone who may be looking for where to get a legitimate loan from a legitimate loan company to email them via ( and you will get your loan and be free from all these scams parading the internet…..just hope this information might help someone in need of loan…..

  • moneyaware

    Hi Emily,

    Thanks for getting in touch. It’s understandable that this is a worrying situation for you and your partner, but this isn’t something either of you need to deal with alone – we’re here to help.

    First of all I’d like to stress that credit card debt isn’t something we’d class as a priority debt. As it’s an unsecured debt, the immediate consequences of not paying it back are often not as serious as with other types of debt. However, it’s still something that should be dealt with.

    The article above highlights some of the things that can happen when you fall behind on payments, but in our experience you can often come to an agreement with your creditors which can help to avoid many of these.

    It’s good that your partner has taken the step of seeking debt advice. This isn’t something you should have to pay for, as you can get professional debt advice for free from organisations such as us. If he were to get in touch with us, we would be able to look at his financial situation in more depth and recommend the best ways for him to deal with the debt.

    Your partner can go through our advice process at any time using our online Debt Remedy tool: It takes around twenty minutes to complete and he would need financial details,
    such as information about his income and debts, to hand. If he’d prefer to speak to someone in person, he can give one of our advisors a call. Our contact details can be found here:

    I hope this helps.

    Kind regards,


  • moneyaware

    Hi Ashleigh,

    It can be very difficult to plan a budget if your income varies from month to month.

    Paying extra to your creditors outside of the DMP is probably not a great idea. Firstly it’s complicated to make sure everyone is getting a fair share of the additional payments and secondly it could make your creditors think your budget isn’t right if you’ve got extra every month.

    I’d suggest getting back in touch with us and trying to find a strategy that works for your circumstances. If you’ve got money spare then it makes sense that it should help to clear the debts, it’s just a matter of finding a way to do this that suits your situation and doesn’t send confusing messages to your creditors.

    I hope this helps.