About harassment by creditors
Creditors are the people you owe money to. If you owe money to a creditor and stop making payments, they can take action against you to get their money back.
This page tells you how creditors are supposed to behave towards you when they are trying to recover their money.
It also tells you what kind of behaviour is not acceptable and how to tell if you are being harassed by a creditor. Harassment is any action that makes you feel distressed, humiliated or threatened.
If you feel you are being harassed by a creditor, there are several things you can do to stop them doing it.
If you need help to talk to a creditor about their behaviour, you can get help from an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
What counts as harassment by a creditor
If the creditor tries to do any of the following things to try and get you to pay back the money you owe, this could be considered harassment. They include:
- contacting you several times a day, or early in the morning or late at night
- pursuing you on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook
- putting pressure on you to sell your home or take out more credit
- using more than one debt collector at a time to chase you for payment
- not telling you if the debt has been passed on to a debt collection agency
- using paperwork or business logos that appear to be official when they’re not, for example sending you letters that look like court forms
- putting pressure on you to pay all the money off, or in larger instalments when you can't afford to
- threatening you physically or verbally
- ignoring you if you say you don't owe the money
- trying to embarrass you in public
- telling someone else about your debts or using another person to pass on messages, such as a neighbour or family member
- falsely claiming to work for the court or be a bailiff
- implying that legal action can be taken when it can't. For example, implying that your home can be taken from you without a court order
- giving the impression that court action has been taken against you when it hasn't
- giving the impression that not paying the debt is a criminal offence. For most debts, it is not a criminal offence if you don't pay them.
What doesn't count as harassment by a creditor
Not all action that a creditor takes can be called harassment. Creditors are allowed to take reasonable steps to get back the money you owe them. These include:
- sending reminders and demands for payment
- telephoning you to ask for payment
- calling at your home, as long as this is at a reasonable time of the day
- taking court action.
Who is harassing you
If you’re being harassed by a creditor it's important to know who is asking for payment. They may not be the people you originally owed money to. This is because your original creditor is allowed to pass the debt onto someone else to collect. If your original creditor does this, they can no longer chase you for money. If your creditor decides to pass the debt on, they must tell you in writing before they do it.
Your debt may be collected by:
- your original creditor
- a debt collection agency acting on behalf of your creditor
- a third party who has bought the debt from your creditor
What can you do about harassment by a creditor
You first need to find out who is actually collecting the debt. You then need to take the following steps:
- collect evidence of the harassment
- complain to the creditor
- complain to a professional body.
Before you make a complaint, gather as much evidence as you can to support your claim. This can include:
- recording the number of visits or calls with dates and times. Write down what was said to you each time and who you spoke to
- any letters or documents you have received
- witness statements from neighbours or other people who live with you.
Complaining to your creditor
You should write to the creditor who is harassing you asking them to stop. Tell them how you want to be contacted in future and ask them to confirm this in writing.
You should point out in the letter that harassment is a criminal offence and you can take further action if your creditor doesn't stop. Remember to send all letters by recorded delivery and keep copies so that you have a record of your complaint.
If you need help to write this, get the advice of an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Complaining to a professional body
You should always complain directly to the creditor first but if this does not solve the problem, you may also want to complain to a professional body too. Your debt collector may belong to a trade association or professional body with a code of practice that sets out how they are supposed to behave towards you.
You can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer service who can help. They may be able to refer your case to Trading Standards.
In Northern Ireland, you can contact Consumerline at www.consumerline.org.
To find out if your lender belongs to a trade association which has a code of practice, see Further Help. The trade association may also take action against its members who break the code of practice.
If your complaint is against a bank, building society or credit card company, they may belong to The Lending Code.
The Lending Code sets out standards that its members should follow. These include:
- time if you are in financial difficulties to try and sort out your debts before further action is taken
- guidance and support if you have fallen into debt because of mental health problems
- using trustworthy debt collection agencies who also follow The Lending Code if the debt is passed on or sold
- telling you before they pass or sell your debt to a new debt collection agency. This means that you should not be contacted by the new debt collection agency until after your lender has told you that your debt is to be moved.
You should complain to the bank, building society or credit card company first, using their complaints procedure. If this does not sort out the problem, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service, telling them that a debt collector or creditor has broken the terms of The Lending Code. For more information about complaining to the Financial Ombudsman Service, go to the Financial Ombudsman's website at: www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk.
For more information about The Lending Code or to find out if your creditor is a member, go to www.lendingstandardsboard.org.uk.
Complaining about a solicitor acting for a creditor
If a solicitor is harassing you on behalf of a creditor, this is considered to be professional misconduct. To make a complaint, you will first need to use the firm's internal complaints procedure. If this does not resolve the problem, you can complain to one of the professional associations. To work out which association you should complain to, you first need to check where the solicitor is registered.
If they are registered in England or Wales, you can complain to the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA) at www.sra.org.uk.
If they are registered in Scotland, you can complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) at www.scottishlegalcomplaints.com.
If they are registered in Northern Ireland, you can complain to the Law Society. Go to: www.lawsoc-ni.org.
Complaining to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service
If you want to complain about a local firm, you can contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service. They can put you in touch with your local Trading Standards Office, who can investigate whether an offence had been committed.
In Northern Ireland, you can contact Consumerline at www.consumerline.org.
Complaining to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has rules and guidance about debt collection. Although the FCA cannot take up your individual case, it can refuse or revoke the firm's authorisation or, for example, fine the firm. It may be worth reminding the creditor that breaching the rules could affect their FCA authorisation.
More about the FCA rules and guidance on debt collection in the FCA's Consumer Credit Sourcebook at www.fca.org.uk.
Illegal money lending
You may have borrowed money from a money lender who is not FCA authorised. These lenders are often called loan sharks and they may physically or verbally threaten you if you can't pay back the money. They also charge extremely high rates of interest, which means you may end up owing much more money than you originally borrowed.
It's important to remember that loan sharks are breaking the law by lending you money in this way. They can’t enforce the high rates of interest they are trying to charge. You can’t be legally made to pay back the money and you have not broken the law if you don't pay it back.
If you are being harassed or threatened by a loan shark, you can report them in confidence in the following ways:
Telephone: 0300 555 2222. Calls, including mobile phones, will be charged at local rate.
Text/SMS: text loanshark and your message to 60003. Texts will be charged at your network's standard rate.
Further help and information
Trade and professional associations
Your creditor may belong to one of the following trade or professional associations which have a code of practice that its members must follow. You can find a list of members on the organisations’ websites:
The Finance and Leasing Association
15 -19 Kingsway
Tel: 020 7836 6511
Credit Services Association
2nd Floor East
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: 0191 286 5656
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumer Credit Trade Association (CCTA)
Suite 4 The Wave
1 View Croft Road
Tel: 01274 714979
Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
25 The North Colonnade
Consumer helpline: 0800 111 6768 (freephone), 0300 500 8082
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