Harassment of People in Debt by Creditors

Harassment

Harassment of people in debt by creditors or their agents is a criminal offence under the Administration of Justice Act 1970. It is often difficult to know what to do when you feel a creditor is not dealing with your account fairly. In order for you to identify what activities by your creditors may involve harassment and what can be done about the problem, this factsheet outlines:

The relevant section of the Administration of Justice Act
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Debt Collection Guidance on harassment
How to deal with harassment by your creditors.

SECTION 40 OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE ACT

S40 Punishment for unlawful harassment of debtors.

1. A person commits an offence if, with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under a contract he: harasses the other with demands for payment which, in respect of their frequency, or the manner or occasion of making any such demand, or of any threat or publicity by which any demand is accompanied, are calculated to subject him or members of his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation; falsely represents, in relation to the money claimed, that criminal proceedings lie for failure to pay it; falsely represents himself to be authorised in some official capacity to claim or enforce payment; or
utters a document falsely represented by him to have some official character, or purporting to have some official character which he know it has not.

2. A person may be guilty of an offence by virtue of sub-section (1) (a) above if he concerts with others in the taking of such actions as is described in that paragraph, notwithstanding that his own course of conduct does not by itself amount to harassment.

OFFICE OF FAIR TRADING CODE OF GUIDANCE

Many activities could count as harassment. It is important to note that anything done by a person which is reasonable when trying to recover a debt, is not considered to be harassment. Both the Office of Fair Trading and Trade Associations (run by the credit industry) have produced guidance on what activities may be considered harassment and should therefore be avoided by creditors. The following list is taken from the new Debt Collection Guidance for holders of consumer credit licenses.

Creditors are warned by the Office of Fair Trading under the Debt Collection Guidance that the following practices are “considered unfair”:

IT IS UNFAIR TO COMMUNICATE, IN WHATEVER FORM, WITH CONSUMERS IN AN UNCLEAR, INACCURATE OR MISLEADING MANNER.

This includes:

Letters that look like court claims

Not making it clear who the company is or what their role is

Unhelpful legal language

Not giving balance statements about the debt when asked

Contacting you at unreasonable times even when asked not to

Asking you to contact them on premium rate phone numbers.

THOSE CONTACTING DEBTORS MUST NOT BE DECEITFUL BY MISREPRESENTING THEIR AUTHORITY AND/OR THE CORRECT LEGAL POSITION.

This includes:

Claiming to work for the court or be a bailiff

Implying action can be taken that is not legally possible such as implying they could take your property
using a business name or logo that implies they are a government body

Implying that court action has been taken against you when it hasn’t

Implying not paying your debt is a criminal offence

Threatening to take court action in England if you live in Scotland or the other way round.

PUTTING PRESSURE ON DEBTORS OR THIRD PARTIES IS CONSIDERED TO BE OPPRESSIVE.

This includes:

Contacting you too frequently

Pressurising you to sell property or take out more debt

Using more than one collection company at the same time or not telling you when your debt has been passed to another company

Pressurising you to pay in full or in large instalments you cannot afford

Making threatening gestures or statements

Ignoring disputes about whether you owe the money

Trying to embarrass you in public or threatening to tell a third party about your debts such as a neighbour or your family.

DEALINGS WITH DEBTORS ARE NOT TO BE DECEITFUL AND/OR UNFAIR.

Examples include:

Sending letters addressed to the occupier or discussing the debt with someone without knowing if they are you

Refusing to deal with an adviser acting on your behalf

Not accepting reasonable offers or passing on payments you make

Refusing to freeze action if you dispute the debt.

CHARGES SHOULD NOT BE LEVIED UNFAIRLY.

Examples include:

Claiming collection costs when the original credit agreement didn’t allow this to happen and making you think you are legally liable for the costs

Not putting the specific amounts that can be added for collection costs in the original credit agreement

Adding unreasonable charges.

THOSE VISITING DEBTORS MUST NOT ACT IN AN UNCLEAR OR THREATENING MANNER.

Collectors should explain the reason for any visit and give you notice of the time and date they will call

They shouldn’t visit if they know you are ill or vulnerable and if they find you are unwell or distressed they should leave

They should not come in if you do not want them to and should leave when you ask them to

They shouldn’t visit you at work or somewhere like a hospital.

HOW TO DEAL WITH HARASSMENT BY YOUR CREDITORS

The first step is to write to a creditor and outline your concerns about the company’s behaviour. Inform them that you are familiar with the terms of Section 40 of the Administration of Justice Act and ask that the creditor takes steps to avoid similar occurrences in the future.

Tell your creditors how you would prefer to be contacted and ask that they confirm their agreement to this. A letter at this stage may avoid the need to take further action against the company.

Tell them you are aware of the OFT Debt Collection Guidance and that you will consider making a complaint about their behaviour under the guidance.

It is usually difficult to persuade the police to prosecute in cases of harassment unless a more serious offence such as violence, fraud or blackmail is also involved. Normally complaints should be made to the trading standards/consumer protection department at your local council.

They should investigate whether an offence has been committed and whether prosecution is appropriate. The penalty is a fine of up to £5,000 in the Magistrates Court. Also a conviction is likely to provide evidence that the creditor is no longer a fit and proper person to hold a consumer credit licence.

If Trading Standards will not act it may be worth contacting the Office of Fair Trading directly. The address is at the end of the factsheet. The OFT does not usually take up individual complaints but their Debt Collection Enforcement Team collects information that can be used to take action against creditors who can lose their consumer credit licence.

The creditor may be a member of a trade association with a code of practice. You could find out if your creditor is a member of a trade association and write to them with your complaint. A code of practice is not legally enforceable but the association may take some action against their members. Details of the main trade associations are at the end of the factsheet under “Useful Addresses”.

OTHER OPTIONS

Another alternative is for you to pursue your own prosecution in the Magistrates Court. This could involve considerable cost so you need to obtain proper legal advice first.

BT have a new service called “Choose to Refuse” which might help if you are getting a lot of calls from an unpleasant creditor. You have to key in a pin number after a call. The caller will then get an automated message if you don’t wish to take their call when they ring. The cost of the service is £8.00 per quarter.

If you receive a telephone service from another provider, contact them and ask if they have a similar service.

You could refer to the Malicious Communications Act 1988. This deals with the sending of letters or articles for the purpose of causing “distress or anxiety”. A person found guilty can be fined in the Magistrates Court.

To prosecute successfully, the letter or article sent would have to convey:-

A message which is indecent or grossly offensive

A threat; or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender.

The Criminal Justice Act & Public Order Act 1994 Section 4a makes it a criminal offence to cause
Harassment, alarm or distress with intent by using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.

This can only be an offence if it happens in a public place not in your own home. The police would need to be contacted and prosecute for this offence.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 makes it a criminal offence to harass people and put people in fear of violence. The harassment must happen on at least 2 separate occasions. The police would have to agree to prosecute for this offence.

The Changing Face of the Critical Illness Market

It is common practice when purchasing a property to consider your spouse/dependents in the event of your death. Many want to ensure that when making a significant long-term investment, such as a home, that if they were to die prematurely, their largest liability (their mortgage) is taken care of and their dependents are provided for. This point is substantiated by the fact that in the UK today over 43% of the adult population hold some form of life cover. Yet, when we consider that with modern day medical and technological developments, people are living longer and surviving what were previously deemed to be terminal illnesses, it’s clear to see why term assurance policies have become so much more affordable. Very few however consider the consequences of contracting an illness and its effect not just upon ones physical health but also considering the longer-term financial consequences.

Upon the diagnosis of an illness, one may have to temporarily or even permanently give up work. When considering this, how can you be expected to meet your liabilities? Not just bearing in mind the mortgage but also our other outgoings. For any household these could include utilities, food, travel, school fees, family holidays in addition to the cost of potential medical and hospital related costs. Few people have savings that they can fall back on, and even those who do would see them dwindle rather rapidly without a continual source of income. All factors that illustrate the importance of considering critical illness cover when undertaking ones financial planning needs.

So what exactly does Critical Illness Cover do? It provides the policyholder with a tax-free lump sum, similar to that of a term assurance policy and is paid out upon the diagnosis of a critical illness. Some of the most common being Cancer, Heart Attack, Stroke and Multiple Sclerosis.

The reality lies with the fact that before the age of 65, you are 6 times more likely to contract a serious illness than to die. So why did 3 times as many people take out life cover than critical illness cover last year?

One possible answer is that nobody expects it to happen to them. However, one of the most daunting statistics out there is that 1 in 3 people will contract cancer at some stage during their life according to the Imperial Cancer Research fund – a truly staggering number. Not only that, but over 156,000 people in the UK will suffer a heart attack and over 150,000 will have a stroke this year alone. Yet this is something that very few people prepare for and do not have the financial capability to deal with the consequences of.

Another possible reason for the low number of policies in relation to life cover is the poor public perception of Critical Illness cover. Stories published in the newspaper and even broadcast on television of how when putting in a claim for what one would believe to be a critical illness, insurers have turned around and told policyholders that they are not covered. Most recently an article was published on a bus driver from Derby who suffered a series of infections in his left leg and as a result had to have it amputated. When he contacted his insurer to put in a £500,000 claim he was informed he would have to of had two legs amputated before they would pay-out. BBC’s Watchdog also broadcast a piece on the failings of CI cover after hearing from a number of women who had been declined a pay-out following being diagnosed with breast cancer. This was due to the fact they were diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). An early form of breast cancer which has the potential to become malignant and spread, however as it had been caught early, it remains contained and therefore would not qualify for a claim. Most would argue however that these women were not just subject to a highly traumatic experience. They had to take significant time of work to receive treatment and recuperate and should therefore be entitled to some form of compensation. One woman following her mastectomy required a further 8 operations due to complications with her skin, leaving her physically unable to work, yet still she still did not qualify for a claim.

So how is the Critical Illness market responding to such issues? What we are beginning to see in the market is that some insurers such as PruProtect, Royal Liver and AXA are beginning to pay claims out upon a severity basis. What that means is that should you be diagnosed with an illness that is under the terms of the policy, you will receive a payout of between 10-100% of your sum assured. The amount is determined by how serious your illness is and how greatly it could affect your lifestyle. It is not a case of you having to be critical before you receive a payout as with many others in the market. Your cover will not cease after the claim as it would many CI policies, it will continue following the claim and the premiums (if guaranteed) will also remain at the same level you were paying prior to the claim. So in the case of the Derby bus driver who suffered a leg amputation, under PruProtects Serious Illness Cover, he would have received a payout of 75% of his sum assured (£375,000) and his cover would have continued following the claim. In the case of the lady who was diagnosed with DCIS, she would have received 10% of her sum assured to assist with medical care as well as give her the peace of mind to know she wouldn’t have to return to work. Her cover would also continue following the claim so should the cancer return, she would have been able to make another claim.

When one considers other insurance markets, it’s obvious to see how this approach makes basic common sense. With regard to household cover, when a water pipe bursts in your home, you don’t receive the total value of your house. You receive a pay-out in proportion to the damage caused to the property and your cover continues. When your car is involved in a minor collision, you don’t receive a pay-out for the whole car, you make a claim to the value of the damage caused and again, your cover continues.

People want financial protection that they can not only claim on, but also have the cover continue after that claim. Not simply to be told that their condition is not deemed critical enough and if it is, that their cover cease following the claim. It’s clear that severity based payments are the way the market should be headed. A point further substantiated by the fact PruProtects Serious Illness Cover was awarded the Best Critical Illness Provider Award for 2009 & 2010, as well as a DEFAQTO 5 star rating for 2007 through to 2011.

Critical Illness and Life Cover are policies that nobody ever wishes to make a claim on, yet evidence shows they are vitally important and can help support ones liabilities and families’ future. Life cover has always been the leading product in the market in terms of sales, yet what is increasingly evident is the value critical illness can offer, especially given the changing nature of the market.

Michael Rhodes is a Financial Protection Consultant for Genesis Advisory Services (UK) Ltd who are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority and form the protection arm of the Genesis Capital Group of South Africa. To find out more about Serious Illness Cover, get in contact on 020 8387 1331.

The Advantages of Settling Credit Card Debt

Stop The Impulses and Start Settling Credit Card Debt
The most common cause for unpayable debts resides in the erratic credit card impulse purchases. Granted, with the amount of advertisement and so-called benefits of using your credit card to acquire expensive goods, few customers can completely resist the temptation. However, even the small credit purchases tend to accumulate to unimaginable heights, leaving individuals with few alternatives but filing for bankruptcy. On the other hand, the good news is that nowadays people have the option of settling credit card debt with the help of specialized agencies, in order to avoid the negative consequences that will remain imprinted on their credit history for years to come.

Right from the start, we would like to emphasize that the DIY attempt of settling your debt has very few chances of succeeding. In essence, the only category of people have a shot of settling credit card debt by discussing directly with the lenders are those who have undergone dire circumstances, such as sudden grave illnesses, expensive divorces or that have recently lost their jobs. However, these situation are by no means a guarantee that the creditor will be willing to listen to the plea, especially since the geo-economical climate has affected quite a lot of individuals.

On the other hand, settling your debt via specialized agencies is an one hundred percent viable solution for resolving seemingly impossible debt issues. As a side note, not all debt settlement companies are created equal and it is advisable to stay away from those that advocate unethical practices, have no insurance or do not grant customers access to their own money. Moreover, being able to terminate the contract with the said agency is an imperious criteria of selection and the maximum term in which they should be able to reimburse the cash in this situation cannot surpass seven working days.

Although customers will be required to account for an extra fee for settling credit card debt, this option is feasible in terms of finances in the long run. In fact, an efficient debt settlement agency will be able to save important sums of cash that would have otherwise been wasted on paying the interest rate on the constantly increasing premiums. Keep in mind that debt increases exponentially each month due to the late fees and the decreasing credit score associated with missing the payment, so the end to this unfortunate situation is nowhere in sight if you do not take action and settle your debt. However, it is advisable to discard idle promises such as being able to repay all your debts for a couple of bucks every month.

In essence, given the practices of credit card companies, which let’s face it are not always fair, many end up knee-deep in debt without even knowing it. If you are struggling to pay the credit card premiums and the best you could manage to do so far is keep the interest rate from accumulating, then it is crystal clear you are in need of financial counseling on settling credit card debt from here. Rather than causing irreparable damage to your payment history and credit card score, why not take the easier way out?

Pick up the phone and call Allied State Toll Free on 877-257-3317 Now and get out of debt ASAP also if you want to learn more read the best debt consolidation methods.

Settling credit card debt could be the best thing you have decided to do ever pick up the phone now and get out the whole you are in.

The Best Finance App

The best finance app, in my opinion, is Mint.com’s mobile app. Here is a list of its features and finance app alternatives if you prefer to use an app other than Mint.com.

Mint.com (Free)

I have been using mint for a long time now and believe it is the best finance app. Intuit bought this web site a while back so it is very secure, using bank level encryption.

Mint gives you a quick overview of your finances, which you can put on one of your main screens in the form of a widget. The widget will show your current cash amount and your credit debt. It will also show you the last time your information was updated, so you can be sure that you are looking at the most recent information.

Once you set up a monthly budget, you can access it with the app to make sure you are staying on track for the month. Mint is very good at knowing how to categorize your transactions for budgeting purposes and it will let you know if it does not know how to categorize a transaction.

The app automatically gives you alerts for various things, which include the availability of large deposits, what bills will are due in the next few days, etc.

You can get a very general picture of you investments with this app. By that, I mean if you simply want to know the balance of you accounts, you will be happy with this app. If you want to get more information about the performance of specific investments, you will need to go to the website.

To set up this app, I would suggest you log on to the main website to input all of you account information and set your budget. Once that is completed, you simply download the app, log in, and all your accounts are ready to go.

Adaptu Wallet (Currently Free)

Adaptu Wallet has many unique features like tracking loyal programs and creating spending forecasts. The app also allows you to store photos of insurance and business cards, which will decrease the clutter inside your wallet. The app is currently free, but the word on the street is they will start charging for usage sometime in 2012.

Pageonce (Free or $4.99 for Gold version)

Pageonce arguably has the best interface of all the finance apps. Your key account balances are placed in thumbnails that appear on the home screen. Contrary to popular belief, this app does provide PayPal support even though many claim it doesn’t. Balance updates are not as fast as Mint.com or Adaptu, some transactions take days to update. The Gold version has the useful ability to pay bills directly from the app, and this is the only finance app that can do this. The gold version also removes all the ads from your app.

Top 5 iPad Finance Apps for Business

The past two years have been a whirlwind in mobile computing and people are embracing these new devices, like the iPad, at breakneck speeds. Apple’s Fourth Quarter revenues jumped 21 percent from a year ago, including the sale of over 11 million iPads. It’s clear that the huge advances in mobile devices are not only changing how we live our personal lives but also how we do business. For business, especially small business, some of the biggest advantages are coming from the app world. If you want to make your business finances a breeze, check out these apps:

1. Square: Credit card transactions have never been easier. The developers of this free app will send you an actual credit card reader that plugs into your iPad. It’s secure, easy, mobile, and even has built in analytics to track sales, collect tips and tax, and send electronic receipts via email or text. There is no need to delay the payment process anymore. Oh, and they only charge a 2.75% transaction fee: no contracts, fees, or merchant accounts necessary.

2. Expensify has the traveling business world in an uproar. The features of this app are impressive at the least: sync banking information to track purchases in real time, digitize receipts to reduce the chance of losing them (just snap a picture and the app will discern and note the necessary info), customize and email reports for approval, and be reimbursed to your checking account. You’ll be your accountant’s best friend with the organization and ease provided by this app.

3. Time Master + Billing: With a 4 star rating in the app store, this app sets the bar for time and expense tracking. The overall best feature is flexibility to be customized to fit how you work – rounding minutes, multiple running timers, billing rates, expenses, client project/tasks, and so many more options. There are even additional modules available to include invoicing, QuickBooks export, and wireless sync between mobile devices.

4. Intuit GoPayment Credit Card Terminal: Similar to Square but a little bit more involved. It’s also a free app, but you have to jump through a few more hoops (AKA a 15 minute application process) to be approved to use this service. However, if you’re looking for a proven brand name, this may be for you.

5. QuickBooks Connect: This is a great supplement to your QuickBooks Online subscription (QuickBooks 2011 users you’ll have to get a paid subscription to use this app past 30 days). Manage customer information and balances; create invoices and sales receipts; convert estimates to invoices; email estimates, invoices, and sales receipts and more with this handy app.

Mobile computing can make all the difference in the efficiency of your business. Look for the bottlenecks in your financial administration and ask yourself, is there an app for that?

Kristi Daeda is an online marketing strategist that works with companies nationwide to define and execute powerful online marketing strategies. Read more about her thoughts on online marketing at her website [http://www.powerhousestrategy.com] or as featured on Mobile Apps Designers.