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

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

Last updated: 20th February 2015

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county court judgment letters

Received a CCJ? Click to find out more

There can be lots of misconceptions about what creditors (your lenders) can and cannot do. We hear from clients that are scared stiff of bailiffs (enforcement agents) 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 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 around unsecured debts.

What can creditors do?

  1. They can chase you for the debt by phone or letters; see our article 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 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.
  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’ve 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 Financial Conduct Authority website.
  2. They cannot break data protection laws, so they cannot speak to your family, friends, neighbours or an employer.
  3. They 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 don’t need to talk to them if you’d prefer to talk over the phone or by letter (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.

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
  • Jo

    Today I received a letter from a debt collector stating that they had sold my debt on to another collector so I checked my credit report and discovered that I have a CCJ. This was filed in February 2014 to an address that I hadn’t lived at since mid 2010 and even that was only a temp address for around 3 months. My credit report shows that this relates to a debt that I defaulted on in mid 2009. The debt was already with collectors and I was paying but the reason I then defaulted is because I fled from an abusive partner and took minimal belongings which meant I had no way of contacting the debt collectors.

    I then moved into a new place in 2010 which I stayed at until 2014 and registered everything to that address and was also on the electoral roll there so why would the debt collectors not be able to find me?? The letter I have received today is the first correspondence since I left the abusive partner years ago.

    My question is really, is there anything I can do about applying to the court and explaining my situation to get the CCJ removed or something as I feel it is a little unfair.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Jo,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation, it sounds like you’ve been through a lot.

      It’s usually seen as your responsibility to keep your creditors updated with your current address information. This is so they can keep in touch with you about repayments.

      When creditors send out paperwork they’ll normally work on the assumption that you’ve received them even if they go to an old address. Although it might seem unfair at times, the court usually wouldn’t set aside (remove) a CCJ on grounds of unfairness. There usually has to be a specific factual or legal reason why a CCJ would be removed.

      Often the best thing to do now is to look at what options you have, as leaving the CCJ unpaid could cause further action, and by putting a payment arrangement in place you can take steps to move forward and deal with the debt. The CCJ won’t show on your credit report forever, so although it might impact you in the short-term, it’s not something that will be there forever.

      If you are worried about the impact paying back the debt will have on your finances, I’d suggest getting in touch with our Helpline for some free advice. You can find out how to get in touch with us here:

      If you have any more questions please let us know.

      Kind regards,


  • Alex

    Wondering if you can help

    I had an account with Littlewoods back in 2009. I didn;t pay this and since moved numerous times and lived out of the country. This went off my radar. I recently tried to buy a sofa from and they took my money off my card and then declined my order

    My question is, are they allowed to keep my payment I made to Very to offset against my debt with littlewoods? I woudl have hoped they woudl have contacted me to inform me of my debt to allow my to pay this at a sutiable time to both of us


    • moneyaware

      Hi there Alex, thanks for getting in touch with us.

      If you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly because you weren’t warned in advance that money might be kept to cover the outstanding debt, or it wasn’t made sufficiently clear that Very and Littlewoods are the same company, it may be worth making a complaint to this effect in writing.

      If the complaint goes unresolved or you’re not happy with the outcome, you can then escalate the complaint to the Financial Ombudsman. We can’t guarantee how the Financial Ombudsman may treat your complaint, but it’s worth looking into if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly.

      Kind regards


  • Rosemary

    I had my house repossessed several years ago and ended up with a shortfall of over £94,000. They took out a CCJ for this shortfall and I have been paying the agreed amount of £20 per month since. Recently they took the debt back “in-house” and starting chasing for an income and expenditure update which I have now provided. I have increased my payment to £50 per month as I just want them to go away. I also offered a lump sum of £8500 as full and final payment as I am 6 years away from retirement and probably won’t be able to afford £50 per month then. I am waiting to hear if this is acceptable.

    I now own another house with no mortgage but would not be able to get a mortgage.

    If they won’t accept this offer what are my options as I don’t want this hanging over me or to have to update my financial information regularly.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Rosemary,

      Thanks for your message.

      It’s common for a debt collection company or a creditor to be updated with your latest budget, so they can see if what you’re paying is affordable.

      When the CCJ was first taken out, the court will have decided the minimum amount that you’d need to pay, based on your circumstances at the time. The creditor can ask you to pay more, which in some cases is affordable if your situation has improved, but they can’t force you to pay more than the court agreed originally without having to submit this back to the court.

      Similarly if your situation changes, you can formally request the court to look over your budget and make decisions on what you can afford but this involves a fee, which is why in practice it’s usually easier just to arrange this with the creditor directly.

      Creditors don’t have to accept full and final settlements for a debt, but some might. There’s really no set rules on this though, and usually it’s up to you to make fair offers to see if they’ll be accepted. If there’s really no prospect of you ever repaying the debt back in full, it might be time to look and see if there are any other solutions and advice we can offer to help you deal with the debt.

      We’d be happy to discuss your options with you. As a charity we offer free, impartial, confidential advice and solutions to anyone struggling with debts.

      You can visit our website at for more information on how to get in touch.

      I hope this helps,


  • Lynne Poole

    I have had a text message saying that an agent will call this weekend unless I call Dukes Bailiffs. I’ve had no letters or contact and to my knowledge I’m not being chased for any debt. Is this a scam? I called the number but they wouldn’t give me any info unless I confirmed my address but I wouldn’t in case it’s a scam.
    Can they visit if it’s the first I’ve heard of it?

    • moneyaware

      Hi Lynne,

      Thanks for your email.

      It’d be hard to advise on this situation without more information.

      If you have a debt that you haven’t made payments to, it could have been passed onto a debt collection agency to deal with.

      If you have an existing debt and aren’t sure if this has happened, you could get in touch with the original company you owed money to
      to see if they’ve passed the debt onto a debt collection agency. They should be able to let you know who’s dealing with the debt.

      A bailiff can’t be used to collect a debt unless your creditor has taken court action to retrieve the money first, and the agreement made in court for you to repay the debt has been ignored. Before a bailiff can visit your house, they must send you a notice of enforcement.

      You can find out more about bailiffs and what they can and can’t do here:

      If you haven’t received a notice of enforcement, then it could be that the collection agency are referring to a doorstep debt collector or field agent.

      Doorstep debt collectors or field agents have no special rights or powers to collect debt and you don’t need to answer the door to them. You can find out more about home visits from debt collectors here:

      If you’re concerned about paying back debt, I’d suggest you get in touch with our Helpline for some free advice. You can find out how to get in touch with us here:

      I hope this helps,


  • tracy

    just had phone call with Jacobs debt collector he said he will be attending my home(rented) with lock smith to gain entry as im talking rubbish saying they are not allowed into my home he wants copy of tenency agreement to speak to my landlady about contents etc please tell me he cannot do either of these things my matters are being delt with via citazens advice

    • moneyaware

      Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for posting.

      I’m sorry to hear about this.

      Without knowing more about this situation, it’s hard to know whether this is a bailiff or a debt collector.

      I’d suggest you get in touch with our free Helpline for advice. Our advisors will be able to chat through the situation with you
      and determine whether this is a bailiff or not. If it is a bailiff, they’ll also be able to let you know what the bailiff can and can’t do
      when they visit your home, as often this can vary depending on the type of debt they’re collecting.

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

      I hope this has helped,


  • Sam


    I recently bought a new 15 plate car in June, I bought it as I had just started a new job and on my new salary I could more than afford it. However, I’ve been made redundant this month (without redundancy pay as I wasn’t with them long enough) and I know that in a few months I will be unable to keep up the payments as my monthly outgoings are now in the £700-£800 range and I am struggling to find work again. I have acquired a PT job until February but am only earning around £300 a month. My partner can cover the bulk of the rest, but the car payment (£250) is just too much currently. I’m only 23 and don’t want to affect my credit score as I rent and move quite often. I have the car on a five year deal to purchase it and I bought it from the dealer via a bank loan with Barclays. Am I correct in presuming that because the car was bought with a loan and wasn’t direct finance from the car company that I can sell the car and use the sale to pay off X amount on the loan? Would it be worth asking if they could freeze payments or interest for a short period? How likely is this? Would it be likely that they would accept a reduced payment offer? Obviously with my current monthly income I literally cannot afford to pay anything at all on the vehicle as my home, bills and feeding myself come before the car. I already pay around £100 a month in interest between my overdraft and my credit card. If i explain the current situation to my banks would they work with me?

    • moneyaware

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for posting.

      First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been made redundant, dealing with debts is hard at the best of times and income shocks like this can often make the situation feel much worse.

      If you took an unsecured loan to pay for the vehicle, it usually means that you could sell the car to pay back some of the loan, either as a lump sum or using the money to keep on top of the car loan repayments, until your situation hopefully improves.

      However it’s also important to understand that if you do use the money from the sale of the car to pay the loan repayments, you shouldn’t prioritise this over your main household bills, living costs or any other debts you may have. We would always suggest dealing with all creditors fairly and making sure you can cover
      your other outgoings (rent or mortgage, council tax and utility bills) first.

      When looking at reduced payment offers, it’s often difficult to agree to this without you defaulting on the debt which would show on your credit report, but importantly it won’t show forever.

      If you’re already struggling with other debts, and need to look at reducing payments then I’d recommend seeking expert debt advice before making any decisions. You can find out how we can help and get in touch by visiting our website

      Finally, if you’re in any doubt about whether the car loan is attached to the car (for example a hire purchase agreement) then be sure to check your agreement or speak to the creditor about this first.


  • Brian

    Some years ago Black Horse forclosed on a loan when I was made redundant & my wife fell seriously ill.It forced the loss of our home.This never went to court as we reached a repayment agreement with them.However the debt has been sold to Marlin Europe ,whose agents are now trying to obtain financial & household expense info from me.Am I obliged to fill in their form?
    Not one payment has ever been missed.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Brian,

      You’re not under any obligation to provide information about yoru finances but it’s fairly common to provide companies with this sort of thing to show what you can afford.

      The idea is that by showing your income and outgoings you can prove that you can’t afford higher payments. It may be that they want to see if you’re in a position to increase (or potentially reduce) you payments based on your current circumstances.

      We can help you prepare an income and expenditure form and give free debt advice. Here’s our contact details:

      Kind regards


  • Brian

    Thanks for that reply James.If i don’t respond with their form but continue with uninterrupted payment can they apply to the court to increase amount.

    • moneyaware

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for your message. As James mentioned, you’re under no
      obligation to give them this information, but it will give them a better understanding of your circumstances and let them know whether or not it’s worth pursuing a higher payment from you.

      There’s no way of saying for certain if your creditor will take
      court action if you don’t give them this information, but it is an option that would be open to them. Creditors tend to want to avoid court action so will try to come to an agreement with you outside of court. However if it does go to court then an affordable repayment arrangement would be agreed through the courts.

      I hope this answers your question.

      Kind regards,