Although there are rules and guidelines that should be observed by debt collection companies, they do not always keep to these.
Some have been known to use dishonest and borderline illegal tactics, meaning you need to be on your guard. Here is how to deal with debt collectors if they come calling:
Find out what you owe and to whom
When dealing with a debt collector, find out exactly what they want, where the debt they are collecting has come from and how much they believe you owe.
It is important to do this before you acknowledge that you owe them any money.
Write to the debt collection agency in question asking for a copy of your original credit agreement - they must legally provide this.
Tell them that you wish only to be contacted be post - this should prevent telephone calls and home visits, which are difficult to keep track of.
What if they contacted you in error?
If you have no knowledge of the debt in question, inform them in writing that this is not your debt, and that you will contact the Trading Standards if they contact you again about it.
What to do if you owe money and can pay?
Ask for a final bill to be sent to your home (in writing) and pay by cheque or debit/credit card.
If you must pay with cash, get a receipt and written confirmation that the debt has been paid in full.
If the debt is question is legitimate and you can afford to clear some or all of it, the easiest solution is just to pay up.
Delaying unnecessarily is likely to lead to further hassle from the debt collection company and could lead to court action and the appointment of bailiffs in the long run.
Once you have settled you should also make sure the company updates your credit file to show that the debt is now satisfied.
What to do if you owe money and cannot pay?
If you cannot afford to pay the debt, you may be able to agree a repayment plan with the debt collection agency, even if this is a nominal amount each month.
Once you have contacted a debt charity, you should be given a grace period of up to 30 days by the debt collection agency. This should allow you to sort your finances and establish how much you can afford to pay.
Can debt collectors enter your home?
The debt collector should only come into your home if you have invited them to.Source: Office of Fair Trading guidelines“
This means they cannot force their way in, either by breaking in or by pushing past you when you open the door.
They must also leave your property if you ask them to. If you do not answer the door or refuse to let them in, there is little that they can do about it.
You can also write to them and ask they only communicate with you by phone or in writing.
Can bailiffs enter your home?
The bailiffs work for a magistrate's court
You have unpaid criminal fines
You have unpaid Income Tax
You have unpaid VAT
In most cases a bailiff cannot enter your property without your permission.
However, they can enter your home without your consent if they can do so without breaking in or causing damage. This is called "gaining peaceful entry" and means that if you leave a door unlocked or a window open that they can come into your home.
Even in the limited cases where they can legally break into your home, they should only do this as a last resort after other reasonable measures have been pursued.
Can debt collectors take your possessions?
Different rules apply to bailiffs and debt collection companies when it comes to seizing possessions.
There are set rules on what bailiffs can and can't take from your property. They cannot take the following:
Things you need for day to day life - clothes, cooker, furniture or tools for work
Items that do not belong to you, like your partner's or flatmate's possessions
However, they can take luxury items and anything from outside your home, including your car and garden equipment.
Debt collection companies
Unlike registered bailiffs, debt collection companies cannot take your possessions.
They do not have the same legal powers as a bailiff and can only visit your home to discuss repayment of your debts.
Can debt collectors take your wages?
A debt collector or creditor needs court approval before they can take your pay direct from your employer. They will only be able to get this if you've had a CCJ in place for a certain amount of time.
The court would decide how much money they can take and for how long. The courts will then be responsible for making arrangements with your employer and for passing the agreed amount to the company you owe money to.
Your creditor and the debt collection company cannot apply for an attachment of earnings order if you are:
In the armed forces or the merchant navy
For more information on how a company can take money directly from your pay, visit the Citizen's Advice website.