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Disability discrimination and debt problems

This advice applies to Wales

Service providers, like banks or utility companies mustn’t discriminate against you if you’re disabled.

Read this page to find out more about unlawful disability discrimination by a service provider if you have debt problems.

Have you experienced unlawful discrimination?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

Who must not discriminate against you?

Someone you owe money to is called a creditor. If your creditor is a service provider like a bank, utility company or debt collection agency, they have a duty not to discriminate against you under the Equality Act.

Are you protected against discrimination?

If you’re disabled and you meet the definition of disability in the Equality Act, you’re someone who’s protected against discrimination. So if you’re treated unfairly because of your disability, it could be unlawful discrimination.

Taking your disability into account

Under the Equality Act, service providers must take your disability into account when dealing with you as a customer. This means they may have to change the way they do things so you’re not disadvantaged by your disability. If you've suffered a disadvantage because of your disability, it could be disability discrimination.

What counts as unlawful discrimination?

Service providers must make reasonable adjustments if you’re disadvantaged by something because of your disability. If they don’t do this, it’s unlawful discrimination.

It may also be unlawful discrimination, if a service provider treats you unfairly because of something connected to your disability - for example, if you're disadvantaged because you can’t read small print or have difficulties communicating or understanding things.

This is called discrimination arising from disability.

If a service provider fails to make reasonable adjustments, you can also often complain about discrimination because of something connected to your disability.

There are other types of unlawful disability discrimination, these are:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation.

Communication problems

The duty to make reasonable adjustments means service providers must communicate with you in an appropriate way if you’re disabled - for example, by email, textphone or BSL. It may include allowing someone else to contact them on your behalf or taking extra time to explain something to you.

In particular, service providers must provide their information in an accessible format - for example, large print or Braille if you need it.

If they don't do this and you suffer a disadvantage as a result, it may be unlawful disability discrimination.

Here are situations where you may be able to complain about disability discrimination:

  • you didn't know about your debt or the extent of your debt
  • you're in debt because the service provider encouraged you to sign up to a service or product without properly explaining it to you or making sure you fully understood it
  • you find it difficult to contact a creditor to talk about your debt because of your disability
  • a creditor refuses to talk to someone who's calling on your behalf even though they have your authority to do so.

Example

You've fallen behind on your credit card payments and your bank has now sent you a warning letter. You're deaf and you've asked a friend to call on your behalf. They say you need to answer a number of security questions first, which you can't do. The bank should make reasonable adjustments so your friend can communicate on your behalf.

Debt collection

If your debt has been passed to a debt collection agency, they must also take your disability into account when trying to recover your debt. If they don't do this and you suffer a disadvantage as a result, it could be disability discrimination and you can challenge it under the Equality Act.

If your creditor knows about your disability, they should pass this information on to the debt collector. But even if the debt collector hasn't been told you're disabled they should take reasonable steps to find out.

Example

Your electricity debt has been passed to a debt collection agency. You’re deaf and your partner usually phones your electricity provider for you. The debt collection agency has now started phoning you to chase the debt but they refuse to speak to your partner. The debt collection agency should make reasonable adjustments so you can communicate with them. For example, they could contact your creditor to verify your partner’s authority or ask you to send them a letter of authorisation.

Taking action

If you've been discriminated against, you may be able to:

  • complain to the service provider that you’ve been discriminated against contrary to the Equality Act
  • make a discrimination claim in court
  • say you’ve been discriminated against if the service provider takes you to court about your debt.

If you're being harassed by a creditor or debt collection agency

If you're being harassed by someone you owe money to or a debt collector, there are also other laws which protect you.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find more useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

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