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

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

Last updated: 5th September 2016

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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 debts.

Please note: the advice below talks about what creditors can do with unsecured debts. There’s more on our website about priority debts and arrears.

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’s owed on the credit card. They don’t need permission from you, but they do need to warn you in advance. This is called the bank’s right of offset.
  5. They can issue a default notice. These are usually sent after 3-6 missed payments, and serve as a warning that your account is about to default. The default is usually granted if you don’t bring it up to date within two weeks. It’ll appear on your credit file for six years and will make it harder to get credit for that time.
  6. They can pass the debt on to a debt collection agency. These don’t have any more legal powers than the creditor, but they may be more persistent in contacting you.
  7. They can apply for a County Court judgment(CCJ). If you receive any court forms you must fill them in and make an offer of repayment. The court will set a repayment and it’s important that you stick to this, or the creditor can take further action
  8. They could issue a statutory demand. This is the first step they can take towards applying to make you bankrupt. This is only possible with debts over £5,000 and fortunately isn’t very common.

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. If you want, you can request that they only contact you in writing, but make sure you open your mail if you do this. You can read more about debt collection guidelines on the Financial Conduct Authority website (although this information is a bit dry). We also have more about your rights when dealing with creditors on our website.
  2. They cannot break data protection laws, so they cannot speak to your family, friends, neighbours or an employer without your permission.
  3. They cannot pretend to possess legal powers they don’t have, for example by making their letters look like court documents or claiming they can send bailiffs to your property without a court order.
  4. They cannot add excessive amounts of interest or charges. They can’t increase the rate of interest because you’ve missed payments. And they can’t add collection charges which are more than the costs to them, so for example a creditor couldn’t add £100 for sending a letter to you which will have cost them much less than this.
  5. They cannot stalk you on social media – see our blogpost 10 ways to stop debt collectors finding you on social media.
  6. Sometimes creditors may not be nice to speak to, but they can’t be threatening or abusive to you, and they can’t lie to you.

In practice, you’ll find many creditors are more reasonable than you might expect, especially if you explain your situation and let them know you’re getting help to try and sort it out.Save

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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
  • Jessica Gilmour

    I was conned into paying for extra with 1&1 website services. My bank account changed, and whilst I didn’t do this on purpose it now means they can’t charge me. I haven’t used the website and did call previously asking to cancel the extra, though I understood I had to pay for the initial payment. They told me it was a free month trial and could be cancelled within the month if I didn’t like it, I did try and call more than once to cancel it within the month but couldn’t get through. When I did get through they told me they couldn’t cancel it, eventually it seemed they were simply unwilling. Now I have had a letter, email and missed call off a collecting/billing enforcement agency.

    I will pay the initial fees, but no more.

    Any advice?

    • moneyaware

      Hi Jessica,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      As a debt charity, our expertise is in dealing with debts rather than disputing them.

      If you’re unhappy with the way a company has treated you, you should make a complaint to them using
      their complaints process.

      If it turns out you do need to pay the money and you’re worried about how it’ll impact on your finances, please
      feel free to give our Helpline a call for advice:

      https://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      Kind regards,

      Jen

  • Ben

    Hello,

    I offered a debt collection agency £100 per month to clear a £1500 invoice i had with one of their clients. They refused this and put me on a 6 month plan at £275, i couldn’t pay the first payment and now they have said i must contact them to discuss clearing the debt or legal action will begin. What action is the next step for them, do i still have time to try and get the debt paid off in full?

    Thanks for your help,

    Ben

    • moneyaware

      Hi Ben,

      If a debt collector talks about legal action they’ll usually be referring to a County Court judgment (CCJ). Here’s some more information about them: https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/ccj.aspx

      They might want to get a CCJ for this debt but most of the time debt collectors are willing to come to an arrangement without it needing to involved the courts.

      I’d recommend getting in touch with us for in depth debt advice. You can do that online, using our Debt Remedy tool: https://www.stepchange.org/DebtRemedy.aspx. It’s free, impartial and will you work out the best way to deal with your debts.

      Kind regards

      James

  • Ayla Louise Clingo

    Hi,
    When I was at a different uni SF overpaid me and then said I owed them nearly £2000. As I am still a student they decided to take the £2000 out of my current SF loan to cover the mistake. This was a year ago and now I am getting letters saying that I never paid it and they are transferring the debt to debt collectors. I don’t know what to do. It is really worrying and can’t afford to sacrifice £2000 of my loan again.
    From Ayla

    • moneyaware

      Hi Ayla,

      Thanks for posting.

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation, it must be very stressful.

      I’d suggest getting in touch with the student loan company to tell them what’s happened.
      They should have records of the payment being deducted from you.

      If you have any emails, letters or bank statements to bank this up, it might be worth sending
      copies to them for evidence.

      I hope this helps,

      Jen

  • James joseph

    I have a friend that has been a university student but has dropped out. They are not from this country but as the university noticed the council of the persons leaving they have received a tax bill of nearly 800 pounds. My friends works enough to support them self but does not have this spare cash. They are now living with another person sharing a room in a uni student house. Can they get away without paying? They are sending letters to their house in the foreign country…. Please help

    • moneyaware

      Hi James,

      We wouldn’t encourage someone to avoid or ignore their debts as this could lead to further action being taken by the creditor.

      We’d also suggest your friend updates their creditors with their most recent address as it’s seen as their responsibility to keep creditors updated with the right contact information.
      This way they won’t miss out on any important information about the debt.

      You can read about dealing with UK debts from abroad, and what creditors can do to collect these debts on our website:

      https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/dealing-with-uk-debts-abroad.aspx

      And you can read about what creditors can do to collect debts here:

      https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/debt-collection.aspx

      If your friend is worried about the debt and how it’ll impact their finances if they pay it back, I’d suggest they give our Helpline a call for some free debt advice. Our advisors can talk through the situation with your friend and let them know a solution to help them deal with their debt.

      If your friend is worried about talking to us, they can give you permission to talk on their behalf.

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

      https://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      Kind regards,

      Jen

  • Dave

    Good morning, Can you help with the following please? This is the edited version!

    March 2008
    We ensured that our accounts had a zero balance and asked Barclays to close our business account, my personal account and cancel our credit cards. We were told that this had been done. Only one account was to remain open so that we could send money to the UK. We set up online banking and were given a pin sentry device so that we could access the account, it was the only account showing online.

    December 2014
    My parents received a letter stating that the account was overdrawn, we spent 45 on our mobile from Australia trying to resolve this and asked for a new pin sentry as ours no longer worked so we could not check our account. It should have been delivered to a house sitting address that we were staying at but it did not arrive.

    September 2015
    We received a call from Barclays demanding payment of over 1000 pounds. We explained that we could not access our account to see the alleged arrears so did not know how much we owe. We asked for copies of our bank statements and were told that we could not have them unless we paid.

    May 2016
    A debt collection company contacted my ex-wife whose name was taken off the account in 2001 when we were divorced, Barclays wrote to her saying that they will now chase her for the debt.

    We have asked the debt collection company (Barclays) to supply bank statements showing the alleged debt and have offered to pay any overdrawn amounts but not the interest as the accounts should have been closed. They refuse to let us have them without payment.

    Can you please suggest how to resolve this matter?

    Many thanks, Dave

    • moneyaware

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation – it sounds very frustrating.

      Firstly, you can write to your creditors with a ‘right to information request’, asking them for the information about your accounts.
      You can find a template letter for this here:

      http://1534-presscdn-0-63.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/StepChange-Debt-Charity-Right-to-information-request.pdf

      Also, by law, your creditors need to supply you with an account statement. So if you haven’t been receiving these it might be worth filing a formal complaint.
      You should be able to do this using the complaints procedure on the creditor’s website. If you’re unhappy with the response you receive, you can escalate it to the
      Financial Ombudsman Service.

      If you think interest and charges have been unfairly added to the debt, you can include this in your complaint. Furthermore, if you’ve got any evidence of closing the accounts with Barclays, it might be worth including copies of it in your complaint.

      We’ve got more information about making a complaint here:

      https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/your-rights/making-a-complaint-about-a-creditor.aspx

      I hope this helps but if you’ve got any more questions please let us know.

      Kind regards,

      Jen

  • carter

    Hello, I am in desperate need of help and very confused of this situation.

    I was a director of a construction company to which i have now resigned. We had materials on credit for the sum of around £3000. Apparently within the credit agreement it stated that the directors would agree to take on any deafult sums owed by the company. The company is still running and has current directors (so they could potentially pay it off) but they are chasing me for the Limited company’s debt.

    I have just received a noticed of enforcement. i am currently on benefits and injured (fractured spine). I have been signed off work for at least 3 months so am in no position to pay off any debt currently.

    I have a 4 year old daughter to support and insane bills and rent to pay which benefits already doesn’t cleat the costs of.

    Any advice would be truly appreciated!

    Best regards

    Carter