Debt happens to everyone. Over time, however, it is important that consumers learn their rights so that they do not have to deal with harassing phone calls and other communications from creditors and collection agencies. Since 1997, citizens of Northern Ireland have been protected by law from such debt collectors. The following is a basic rundown of the laws in this part of the UK.
Creditors are anyone that a person owes money to. This could mean a credit card company or agency. Whenever a person stops paying on an account, then they are in debt. Creditors can then take certain action to receive their money. However, there is line that creditors can cross, which is where harassment laws come into play.
Sometimes, a creditor will have a solicitor contact people on their behalf. However, they may start calling at all hours of the day and could show up not only at a person’s home but try to embarrass an individual at work or in public. Under current laws, this is considered professional misconduct. It is important for people to file an official complaint if a solicitor has been harassing them.
Definition of Harassment
Harassing behaviour can be defined in a number of ways. For example, if creditors contact an individual multiple times a day, especially early in the morning or late at night, this could be classified as out of line behaviour. Additionally, there should never be any pressure to sell one’s home or possessions to make up this debt – creditors cannot force people to do such things. Any misleading letterhead or paperwork that appears to be official but is not is also harassment. Any group that embarrasses an individual at work or in the community or uses a third party or family member to pass on information is also guilty. However, if people are trying to prevent or detect that a crime has been committed, the creditor harassment laws in Northern Ireland may not apply.
Fines and Prison Sentences
Anyone found guilty of harassment or being in breach of the laws will be guilty under the The Protection from Harassment Order of 1997. Individuals convicted can face fine or prison sentence no more than two years or both. Consumers cannot be convicted of a criminal offence if they do not pay on an account. However, they could end up ruining their credit or having to file bankruptcy. This is why any creditor that implies that a person may face prison time or lies about the consequences of a debt is guilty of harassment. People cannot be intimidated into paying debts.
What to Do
In the event that a creditor is harassing a citizen, it is important to reach out to professionals the Citizens Advice Bureau is a rich resource to turn to in such situations. They can be reached by email and the nearest Bureau can be found by conducting a basic Internet search. If the behaviour is harassment, law enforcement and the courts may need to be involved. It is important to also collect any evidence of the harassment. This means that Northern Ireland citizens should record when phone calls come in and should also ask that these calls stop or happen during appropriate times of the day. Professionals recommend that all requests are made not only to the creditor but also in writing. If phone calls are made to workplaces or the creditor tries to intimate a citizen, it is important to consult with law enforcement and other professionals. All paperwork should be saved and copied and witness statements are important.
What Are Creditors Allowed to Do?
Creditors are allowed to take steps to communicate with people and try and get their money back. For example, creditors are allowed to phone and ask for payment, send reminders, call at reasonable times of the day and bring people to court asking for payment. Debts can be collected by the original creditor, collection agencies and third parties who have purchased the debt and are seeking payment.
Threat of Violence
No one should ever fear violence for not paying a debt. If this happens, the convicted individual can face up to seven years of prison plus a fine. Law enforcement should be contacted if this happens.
Communicating with the Creditor
It is important that individuals take the time to deliberately and specifically ask creditors to stop any harassing behaviour. This is important if the harassment continues – it helps to be able to tell law enforcement and courts that the creditor was asked to stop. It is important that in such communications people are clear about when and how they would like to be contacted. This should be in writing too. Citizens should also explain that harassment is a criminal offense and that action will be taken if the communications do not stop. Citizens Advice Bureau can provide support when submitting such written requests.
Understanding one’s rights means that consumers of all ages and backgrounds can protect themselves. This is a chance to advocate for one’s self and truly make sure that creditors and debt collectors are properly conducting themselves. It is fine to seek payment for a debt. However, there is a thin line between communicating with consumers and harassing them.