Debt collectors have been known to employ unscrupulous tactics when it comes to recovering owed money. But strict rules mean there are tough restrictions to control those overstepping the mark.
How far can a debt collector go to hunt you down in an effort to get their hands on any money you owe?
According to official guidelines, it's improper for recovery agencies to use social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to attempt to contact someone to recover debt.
Tough new guidelines
In 2011, banks, law firms and traditional debt collectors received guidance from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which toughened up on several areas of debt collection.
In 2014, responsibility for regulating debt collectors passed to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
The guidance also applies to treatment of people who are wrongly pursued for debt: for example, a debt that's already repaid, or belongs to someone else.
If a debt collector does overstep the mark, the FCA has powers to ban businesses from lending and to prosecute them for breaking consumer laws.
Banning social media
The official guidance tells lenders and others collecting debts that it considers using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites to contact debtors to be “unfair and improper”.
In addition, it makes it clear that all the departments and companies enlisted to recover a debt must exchange and log information correctly. This means that those owing debt aren't contacted by too many parties over the same matter.
It also means that information is shared when it's been established that you're not the person in debt.
The guidance also covers “continuous payment authorities” (CPAs). These aren't Direct Debits, which are based on your bank account number and which you can cancel at any time.
Instead, CPAs are used by recovery agencies to recover debt based on your debit or credit card number, and they can be extremely difficult to cancel.
The guidelines insist that creditors must use these appropriately by not constantly trying to take the same repayment.
They must also suspend payments if the debtor's experiencing difficulties and needs to agree a sustainable repayment plan.
The following are also banned:
Leaving a calling card at a debtor's address, which states or implies that the debtor has missed a delivery and encourages them to make contact.
Claiming to be a solicitor (if it isn't true) or to work for the courts or other public offices.
Implying that bankruptcy or sequestration proceedings might be initiated when, under the circumstances, they can't be.
Claiming to have a right to enter your premises when they haven't obtained it.
Stating that certain goods will be repossessed that they are not allowed to repossess.
Contacting individuals struggling with debt at unreasonable times, and not taking into account your requests not to call during certain times of day, eg because of shift work.
Not respecting your request to communicate by email only.
Contacting you at “unreasonable locations”, such as in hospital.
Stating a court judgment has been obtained when it hasn't.
Pursuing a relative of a debtor who was not party to the agreement.
Threatening court action or orders to pressure you into paying more than you can reasonably afford.
Using postcards or leaving voice messages in a way that might disclose to others that a debt-recovery business is after you, or disclosing debt details to occupants at your last known address.
Asking others to pass on messages to you – revealing you're being pursued for debt.
Failing to suspend pursuit of debt when the debtor doesn't at that time have the mental capacity to engage in the debt-recovery process.
Making demands for payment when it's uncertain you're the actual debtor.
That is just a selection of the extensive guidance.
If a business pursues you unfairly, or harasses or humiliates you, or you believe it to be behaving improperly, you should write to it politely but firmly explaining your complaint, and asking it to correct matters.
State that you are aware that it is contravening not just FCA guidance, but behaving unlawfully under section 40 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970 and/or the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.