Debt collector at your door

DCAs like to threaten home visits, dressing them up with various names such as “doorstep collector”, “field agent”, “account representative” or somesuch.

Whatever they may be called, it is important to remember that these glorified salesmen are NOT bailiffs. They have no legal powers and no right of entry. You do not have to let them in, and I cannot imagine any circumstances in which you would.

It’s actually pretty unusual for a DCA to bother sending anybody, but if you’re unlucky enough to find one knocking on your door you should keep calm and remember that you are in control of the situation. Politely but firmly ask the collector to leave, talking through a window or letterbox if you don’t feel comfortable opening the door. If they refuse, inform them that you will call the police. If they still refuse, call the police and report a breach of the peace. Don’t lose your temper, no matter how tempting it may be.

There are rules and proceedures a DCA must adhere to when sending a debt collector, which are summarised in the OFT guidelines on debt collection here. The parts of interest are:

2.4 Examples of unfair practices are as follows: a. falsely implying or claiming authority, for example, claiming to work on instructions from the courts, claiming to be bailiffs or, in Scotland, sheriff officers or messenger-at-arms

2.11 Those visiting debtors must not act in an unclear or threatening manner.
 

2.12 Examples of unfair practices are:
a. not making the purpose of any proposed visit clear, for example, merely stating that collectors or field agents will call is not sufficient
b. visiting a debtor when it is known they are vulnerable, for example, when a doctor’s certificate has been provided stating that the debtor is ill
c. continuing with a visit when it becomes apparent that the debtor is distressed or otherwise vulnerable, for example, it becomes apparent thatthe debtor has mental health problems
d. entering a property uninvited
e. not leaving a property when asked to
f. visiting or threatening to visit debtors without prior agreement when the debt is deadlocked or disputed1
g. not giving adequate notice of the time and date of a visit
h. visiting debtors, unless requested, at inappropriate locations such as work or hospital.

2.12f: Visiting or threatening to visit debtors without prior agreement when the debt is deadlocked or disputed.
By ‘deadlocked’ we mean where a debtor (or debtor’s adviser) agrees there is a debt and has offered a repayment programme which has not been agreed by the creditor or debt collector. We are not saying that any offer must be accepted but we have seen cases where offers are disregarded and a debtor is told that ‘we are sending field agents’. Many debtors are unlikely to understand this term and are likely to view the visit as a threat designed to make them offer more money when they can pay no more. Some letters appear to be designed to give this impression.

By ‘disputed’ we mean genuinely disputed. We are not seeking to protect ‘won’t pays’ but those who are being pursued for a debt they do not owe or genuinely believe they do not owe. Debt collectors who can show that the debt is due and that any dispute has been looked into and the debt confirmed will not be in breach of this provision.

2.12g: Not giving adequate notice of the time and date of a visit

When a door-to-door debt collector makes an initial home visit to a debtor it may not always be possible for them to give adequate notice of the time and date of that visit. This is not necessarily unfair. The key word is adequate. This was inserted to ensure that what the debtor regarded as adequate was key. What is adequate will vary from debtor to debtor. When initial contact is made a debtor may be happy to speak to the debt collector there and then. If that is the case the visit would not be unfair. Where a debtor prefers to use that first visit to agree to a future visit at a more convenient time a debt collector should respect their wishes. A debtor may prefer to do so at a later date so they can seek advice about their situation or arrange for a third party to be there. What is important is that a debtor is given enough time to prepare. They should never be coerced into immediate discussions.

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