Besieged by debt collectors

One of the stepdaughters has got herself into trouble with the debt collectors. Just doesn’t do stuff about them, hopes it will all go away. A parking ticket is now a £400 bill.


A “warrant of control”? Is that “we can come and take your stuff and sell it”?

Given that she doesn’t in fact have the money what’s the thing to do here? It can be paid over time, it cannot be paid now.

Anyone actually got any idea of what the right words to say to the collectors are?

This is not, obviously, the only debt…..

60 thoughts on “Besieged by debt collectors”

  1. Stepchange is very helpful. She should start there.

    CAB’s are horribly busy in most places, wheras stepchange are available. They’ll contact the creditors directly, and arrange a repayment plan, prioritising debt appropriately.

    1000% recommended.

  2. Bloke in Germany in Cyprus

    She can borrow the money from her mother? Or you? ( her mother is your wife?)

    If she’s that hopeless about doing stuff it would be better to get the whole lot cleared at once. A missed instalment down the line would mean additional fees, interest, court fees etc.

  3. And get her to cut up her credit cards.

    You could always explain to her that one of the great merits of capitalism is that people can go bankrupt.

    Or there’s always the classic; flee to Pakistan/Ireland/Israel if she has connections there. The old solution of fleeing to the US is difficult nowadays though it must once have constituted a non-negligible proportion of their immigrants.

  4. Bloke in Germany in Cyprus

    And a Stern talking to about how these things never “just go away”.

    I do know a highly successful businessman who is so scatterbrained and averse to doing things he does not want to do, that he has received prison sentences for unpaid motoring offences. Got out literally by stumping up when the cops came to arrest him for not handing himself over to start his sentences.

    But it really is not advisable and far more expensive than paying at the earliest opportunity.

  5. Keep the windows closed and the doors locked and don’t let them in. Speak to them through the letterbox. Negotiate sensibly with the bailiff as soon as possible. Do a budget and a financial statement as evidence to back up any offer.

    Step Change and CAB are very useful. If you’re going to go to CAB, find one that’s not quite so busy and travel to it.

    If you don’t intend to pay a parking fine, fight it early to ensure that any action taken against you gets its costs dumped back on the council that issued the notice.

  6. Here are a couple of the more useful CAB site addresses.
    Basically, she can apply to the court to pay by instalments. If the court agrees (if she appears willing and makes a first payment, they should agree. Get her to do a budget first to show how much she can afford.) then the bailiffs are called off unless she defaults again.

    If they show up before she does this, then there isn’t much she can do. If they show up after she has made the arrangement, but before they are informed, she will have to inform them that a new arrangement has been made. Make sure she has a case number/reference number and contact details of someone with the authority to inform the bailiffs that it has been set up. The more evidence you can show them, the better. They might just take stuff anyway, as people probably try this on.

    As for the rest of the debts… tell her to stop spending and if its really bad, contact a debt advisory service as JuliaM says.

  7. 1. Prepare an income and expenditure analysis;
    2. Prepare a schedule of debts, how much capital is owed, how much the instalments are, how much arrears exist on any instalments;
    3. commercial bailiffs may have been instructed, e.g. Equita,and, using the information prepared in 1 and 2, it may be possible to reach an agreement with them to pay by instalments, they can be reasonably flexible as long as they are kept informed. Even if there is a default and the matter is passed onto an individual Bailiff they too can, with open communication, agree instalments. The instalment offer should be realistic, although, of course, a bailiff will be under pressure to recover the money is within a few months. It is, in part, a matter of gentle haggling.
    4. If the debts have been sold on to third parties they have usually only paid a relatively small percentage and would be amenable to instalments or, if it becomes possible, a one-off payment for less than the total sum owed. That would extinguish the debt even if the entirety of the debt was not paid.
    5. If the debts total less than £20,000 it may be possible to apply for a Debt Relief Order – type in those three words on a search engine and explanatory material will come up.

  8. Surprised no-one’s pointed out the obvious. Ensure you don’t have anything around of saleable value to seize.

  9. She might consider an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) if you can’t or don’t feel inclined to bail her out.

  10. You could also scare her into behaving sensibly by watching bailiffs carrying her stuff out of the house, if sensible advice has been ignored in the past.

    Then again, I’m a heartless bastard.

  11. Stepchange are pretty good and as you ring them you can always get someone the same day.
    They can advise based on what they are told, get her to have the info regarding income, expenditure and bills to hand.

    Even Equita can be negotiated with, other bailiffs can too. Better to negotiate with the debt company.
    And debt payments can be a pound a month if that’s all that can be paid.

  12. Is there a CCJ in place? Until that happens, they have no right of entry. Only the courts can appoint bailiffs to enter the property and seize goods. Debt collectors have no more rights than any other business – even though they like to scare people into thinking otherwise.

    Juila’s advice is worth following here.

  13. They can only seize seizable goods. They can’t take food, clothing, furniture, white goods, books, work tools and equipment, personal effect, items of minimal value, items that don’t belong to the debtor.

    When I was threatened with this there was nothing they could have taken. If they desperately wanted to take my 25-year-old CRT television they were welcome to it, it was too heavy for me to drag to the bin.

  14. Many years ago a friend had debt collectors chasing him. One came to collect the debt in goods – minor issue in that he lived with his parents, having moved back there after uni. And everything in the house was theirs except his clothes.
    Nothing they could do.
    Years later the debt has changed hands many times, he still lives with his parents.

  15. 1. Move. If they don’t know where you live, they can’t get a warrant to enter the premises.
    2. Check if the debts are actually enforceable – it’s what, six years in the UK now before they are time-barred from being collected?
    3. Know the rules on bailiffs and what they can seize, so you can protect yourself in the meantime.
    4. Set up a plan to deal with the debts that have to be paid off. If you can contact the debt collection agencies via a third party, you can probably buy up the debts for pennies in the pound.

  16. Oh, and also, far more important than all of the above:

    “One of the stepdaughters has got herself into trouble with the debt collectors. Just doesn’t do stuff about them, hopes it will all go away.”

    That’s often a symptom of severe depression, anxiety, or something of that ilk. Without medical treatment for the underlying issue, nothing will change.

  17. Channel 5 have a long-running documentary series on this very subject: Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away!

    My former neighbour in the flat below was evicted one morning, with full camera crew present. We shared a communal mailbox and I had seen the red letters piling up for several months. It astonishes me that people can just bury their heads like that.

  18. If you can contact the debt collection agencies via a third party, you can probably buy up the debts for pennies in the pound.

    While it is true that debt can be purchased for pennies in the pound this tends to be only available once all other avenues of lawful recovery have been pursued (court, bailiffs, etc.) to no avail.

    Most of the debt ends up being for people who do not exist (having obtained credit fraudulently using forged documents) or foreign residents who have left the country and for whom no reasonable enforcement is available (i.e. Nigeria and such places)

  19. If she can, with a strong dose of self-discipline,pay off the debts within five years, go with Stepchange. If she cannot she should consult one of the better providers of IVAs.
    Don’t touch a commercial operator of Debt Management Plans. Stepchange are funded by the credit card companies (with the exception of American Express who want a free ride at their competitors’ expense) and don’t charge the debtor anything – in contrast, one of the larger DMP companies pockets the whole of the first month’s payment and 17.5% of all subsequent ones before giving a penny to the creditors to reduce the debts.
    Yes, she should cut up all her credit cards. There are now pre-paid debit cards so that you can use plastic cards for convenience without being able to run into debt.

  20. To add to what jgh says above.
    What can be seized is basically bling. The non-essential but status establishing stuff people like to accumulate. Which is why I’d advise “losing” it for a while.
    Eventually all this is going to blow over. Debts will be paid or arrangements with creditors agreed. So you live without it for a while. But if it’s seized, the amount the debt collectors realise from it to go against your debts will be minor compared to its value to you. And it’s going to cost a lot to reacquire replacements when you are clear of debt.
    Not saying advice like this ever gets heeded. People value the convenience & style of their stuff for the couple weeks they’ve still got it higher than being able to retrieve it a few months down the line.
    Which is why they’re in schtuk in the first place

  21. Is this a private parking invoice or a council penalty charge notice?

    (You cannot be fined for parking offences in the UK, although Tim didn’t use the word “fine”)

    If it is a council penalty charge notice then you probably have to deal with the debt collectors as many commentors above have described, and the rest of this comment can be filed away for future reference.

    If it is a private parking invoice, then in most cases the “debt collectors” are fake / fraudsters sending empty threats and it is best to just ignore them.

    Normally the driver of the vehicle would be liable for private parking invoices, but most parking companies have no evidence of who the driver is as they don’t take photos of people exiting their car. Without evidence, the registered keeper of the vehicle cannot be assumed to be the driver. Should the driver fail to pay the invoice, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the registered keeper of the vehicle can become liable if and only if a strict notice containing specific information is sent to the keeper between days 29-56 of the alleged contravention. If this notice is not sent then the charge cannot be enforced against the keeper, and without evidence of the driver’s identity they have nobody to pursue.

    Most parking scam companies fail to follow the law to the letter and thus they are unable to enforce their tickets. There is no incentive for them to follow the law properly as many motorists just pay up after being threatened.

    Should one not pay, then they will enlist “debt collectors” (usually someone working for/with them) to send more threatening letters. Here is a useful guide on how to deal with debt collectors seeking recovery of private parking invoices:

    You should also check the parking company to see whether it is known for trying it on in court (most don’t). ParkingEye did and won, because Mr Beavis is an idiot and they chose their example court case carefully (notably because they actually suffered a loss when he didn’t pay, their signage was clear and prominent, and he didn’t follow any of the instructions for appealing).

  22. Has she attempted to appeal the parking ticket?

    There’s always the chance that the fine might be dropped or at least reduced, and even if the appeal fails it might buy some breathing space.

  23. IME people who let things spiral out of control like this tend to keep doing it, especially when lots of people act the white knight every time they get into trouble. If its a genuine one-off oversight and out of character, then help (and maybe investigate whats at the root of the out of character behaviour), if not let her get on with it, its her life and if she wants to go through it the hard way don’t get drawn into the drama. It never ends well for anyone.

  24. Maybe write to the Guardian to suggest she was trafficked into the UK by white males for use in the sex trade and her debts were incurred in connection with her transportation costs.

    That should get at least a few thousand SJW’s on her side, maybe even willing to crowd fund her costs?

  25. CAB is a fake charity – it’s 60% government funded. Best avoided.

    If she can’t get a job to pay off her debts, then renting out her lower reproductive tract is the way to go. Very lucrative (unless she’s ugly), very free market and also short term.

  26. I have to agree with Dave and Peter Risdon. The only time I got in trouble with not paying bills was when I was at a particularly low ebb, and burying my head in the sand seemed preferable to dealing with it (spoiler alert: it was not). Four hundred quid is a nugatory sum (unless you don’t have it) so the underlying issues would seem more worthy of fixing.

  27. Yes it’s a vicious cycle, people at a low ebb or having problems being harassed by people who really are nasty human beings. Had an incident years ago with an administrative error (someone moving into your old address with the same name as you can cause interesting problems) and the agencies calling constantly, harassing people and they can be very hostile on the phone.
    One trick is to write to them saying you will only correspond in writing in the future and then don’t answer the phone to them or end the call if you mistakenly answer. Keep a track of the calls and then if they persist you can report them for harassment, also handy to demonstrate if you end up going down the legal route.
    I know people have to earn a living, but don’t know how some of these people sleep at night.
    Theres is plenty of good advice online and some good forums for support, if it’s multiple issues then definitely a debt management (not one of the commercial ones) organisation is the way to go as said above

  28. Imv, the coalition did a pretty good job of bringing in regulation for enforcement agents ( formerly known as ‘bailiffs’ though the term is useful so will go on as long as non-existent terms like ‘road tax’ ).
    The first approach by letter is always very soft, tells you about the debt, and includes lots of advice if you have financial difficulty. The charge is fixed ( £75 I think ). The charges then ramp up if a visit is made due to non-reply to the initial contact. There’s more on the standards they work by here.

  29. After appealing (successfully) against parking fine for parking on our own property (6 months council bullying + bailiff threats) – I noticed this today.

    Somebody should go after the council for extortion….

  30. As a CPA, and in all seriousness, I’ll wager your step-daughter doesn’t need credit counseling or whatever. My bet is that she needs either a therapist or a psychologist, or both.

    Like a lot of people who get into financial difficulties of one sort or another, she’s in difficulty because she chose to avoid dealing with a relatively minor problem in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time. If she is doing this on a regular basis in different aspects of her life, then her issue is one of mental health, not money management skills (or the lack thereof).

    Teaching her money management or getting her credit counseling is essentially offering to treat a disease symptomatically, which will get you nowhere.

  31. BniC – how do you suggest the people to whom a debt is owed should try and collect it?
    Does the non-harassment of those ignoring a debt work?

    How much should those who do pay debts pay towards the costs of debts of those who do not pay? The company has to cover its costs in some way.

  32. I know of Stepchange by reputation. I know of Christians Against Poverty in practice. Our Church was a local centre. Don’t need to be a Christian.
    Once they’re involved creditors are usually co-operative as the debtor usually starts to manage their money. Chap in our house group would go along to court with them to stop them being evicted. Debt is grim stuff.

  33. What to do depends on where you are and where you want to go. If your step daughter has a CCJ (county court judgement) that is over 28 days old and not satisfied (paid) she will find it hard/impossible to get debt / credit at normal rates. This will probably last for 6 years. You are looking at rates going from 4% to 100% or maybe 1000%.

    Similarly if she has defaulted on a credit agreement she is in the same situation.

    I would contact the consumer credit counselling service

    I dealt with lots of people who fitted into this area pre the financial crash and arranged sub prime mortgages for them. Before anyone says anything I bet you that to redemption these loans were more profitable than the vanilla stuff

  34. Lend (i.e. give) her the money. Private debts can be avoided by hiding under the windows when the doorbell rings, but anything you owe to the State has to be paid.

    You’ve got 400 quid Tim. Lend her the money, which in practise means a gift when someone is this skint.

    And referencing what Dennis the Peasant said, I can speak from personal experience that this kind of thing turns into a negative (or positive, not sure of the correct analogy) feedback loop psychologically. But the cure isn’t counselling, it’s money. Once you’ve got the debt(s) off your back, your mental state returns to normal. When the debt is there, it steadily worsens to potentially catastrophic proportions.

    These things seem simple to manage when you’re not in the situation, hence the tendency for happy comfortably off people to offer useless advice to somebody who can’t sleep because they are terrified of who will arrive at their front door.

    Did I remember to say, give her the money?

  35. Many options, but it will take about 8-10 years to get back to status if CCjs etc get on the record.

    There are things called Debt Relief Orders that let you basically walk away from debts if no disposable income and less than 15k owed.

    But help and educate is the best if you can manage it, and if it works.

  36. I imagine Australian law is roughly similar to UK. Due to an period of head sticking in my past, I’ve been through this, although in my case the debt was nearly 20k (very extended period!)

    The best thing to say to debt collectors is nothing. You enforce this by not answering your front door, not answering the phone to anyone you don’t know, etc. For private debts, find out what they are and arrange payment plans via a third party. Generally private companies will settle for something rather than nothing, and they don’t really want the cost and hassle of taking you to court.

    Debts to guvmint, which is what it sounds like, are another matter. The bailiffs (sheriffs here) are out there, and they’re coming. They can’t be bargained with or reasoned with… well, actually they can. In my case, search and seizure was done by appointment. The sheriff left his card after banging on the door a few times (yes, I was home, see ‘not answering door’ above). We arranged a time for search and seizure the following week. Obviously, as mentioned above, you have nothing worth taking in the house by the appointment time. If UK law is anything like Aust, they can’t reduce you below a reasonable lifestyle or compromise your livelihood, so bed/fridge/TV/computer/basic furniture/car/etc are off limits. He was a nice bloke, by the way.

    Eventually I was arrested and bailed in the comfort of my own living room on the promise I would go before the magistrate the following month. Magistrate reduced the amount owing by 2/3rds due to my circumstances at the time and offered me a payment plan for the rest. If I miss a payment, I get arrested for real.

    Of course, as mentioned several times above, my credit is now shot for years. It’s also a stressful and quite frankly embarrassing experience (having a couple of burly blokes walking through your house looking to stuff to take is not fun). I didn’t have any choice, because, $20k. It would be a shame to have to go to those lengths over 400 quid. I know it probably feels wrong, but if you can help her out that’s probably the best outcome.

    It might be too late, but the best bet is to contact the holder of the debt and try to arrange something before it gets that far. If not, your step daughter needs to do a few things immediately
    – Gather any evidence possible to explain the non payment. I had, literally, a note from my doctor to show the beak explaining my diagnosis.
    – Prepare a monthly budget (nothing special, a dozen lines of income/expenses is enough) to back up any statement of how much she can afford to pay per month. The magistrate didn’t ask to see mine, but he could see I had it, which meant when he asked how much I could pay he had some confidence in my answer. It’s not a good look if you’re not prepared.
    – This should be obvious, but she needs to be polite and calm when dealing with any official. Getting into a screaming match with the bailiff is not going to help – even if you’re right. This is part of the reason for arranging discussions on your own terms (did I mention not answering the door?). I’d go as far as having the dining table clear so the nice bailiff has a place to sit and spread out his paperwork. And for goodness sake offer him a cup of tea.

    Wish your step daughter luck for me 🙂

  37. Couple things she needs to do.

    1. Stop hiding from them. They won’t go away. In fact (in the US) they can take this to court and if she keeps ignoring it, get a default judgement against her. Then its off to jail if she doesn’t pay up.

    2. Look up local laws (preferably with competent legal help) regarding what the collectors can do to collect (for example, here its mostly illegal for a collector to call your place of employment), what is required for a collector to establish they actually have a debt and the debt is correct, and what, if any, are the time limit restrictions on collecting that debt.

    3. With all her ducks now in a row, contact the collector and (assuming its a legit debt) start negotiating. Its all negotiable. From the total amount she’ll have to pay to the timeframe of payment. This is best accomplished through someone who knows what they’re doing. The collector just wants to turn a profit and as long as he can do that he’ll likely negotiate something.

    There’s (again, in the US) lot’s of ‘too-much-debt-help’ non-profits that provide some assistance and advice for this stuff and I imagine there’ll be something similar over there.

  38. I like Ian B’s advice, except you should make it explicitly a gift. Along the lines of “I will take care of this parking fine, and we will sit down together and agree a budget for you which will make your finances manageable.”

    Generally, if you lend money to a friend in financial difficulty you’re quite likely to end up with neither the friend nor the money.

  39. To be honest I’m surprised that it is in this position. My missus would have had the treatment and paid over the cash ages ago.

    I’m against paying it for her as she doesn’t learn from that but I’m also against letting them get screwed by the state over a few quid.

    I’d pay it but make it conditional on her getting rid of her cards and not racking up debt again. Let the credit rating be the punishment.

  40. Agree with SJW, but if she is in a parish with CAP then get her to sign up as CAP allocates a one-to-one helper (a genuine Christian, not a nominal one) who will give help and advice whenever needed and provide encouragement and moral support. [Not me, outside my competence – I just provide Christmas puddings for the family supported by the wife of the leader of my Bible Study group]. The continuing support will help with any psychological issues.

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