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Consumer Rights Television Programmes Stories being covered on television such as BBC Watchdog and Scam Busters.

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Old 10th March 2009, 09:08 AM
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Smile BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

Twice already this year, Watchdog has exposed companies chasing people for debts they couldn't prove and wouldn't explain.*It seems we've only scratched the surface as hundreds more of you have told us about your terrible experiences with debt recovery agencies - and lots of them are hounding people for money that they might not even owe.

One of those people is Christopher Fitzpatrick, who's being pursued for 450 by a company called Advantis Credit.*The letters they've sent aren't very clear - in fact they don't even say who the original debt was with.*All they say is that the money is for gas at his old home.

Christopher, however, has definitely paid all his gas bills from that address and has even got a final bill to prove it. In fact, when he moved out, he didn't owe money - he was actually in credit.*

But even though Christopher wrote to Advantis, disputing the debt, they sent him another letter chasing the debt. This breaks Office of Fair Trading (OFT) guidelines that say when a debt's been reasonably disputed, companies shouldn't pursue it while it's being investigated.

We've checked with British Gas who has now been able to confirm that the debt relates to someone else. Chris is angry it was him who was pursued, saying: "I feel it's a scandal. I think we should shine the light on it and expose it to people."

The letters can cause panic attacks
What these companies don't seem to consider is that when letters like these are sent to the wrong people, they can be terrifying.*Sonja Munro is 76 and suffers from high blood pressure, so when another debt recovery company sent her a letter saying she owed 325 it only aggravated her condition. The letter upset her so much her blood pressure went sky high and she*ended up calling an ambulance whilst having a panic attack.
*
It was left to her daughter Sue to prove that Sonja didn't owe the debt.*Sue wonders where it would have stopped if she hadn't done that: "When do the people start knocking on the door?*How far would it go if we don't try and stop this?*Who gets hurt?"

A good question. So why aren't debt recovery companies getting their facts straight before sending out*aggressive letters to*the wrong people?*Gareth Thomas is the Minister for*Consumer Affairs. He's said when companies behave like this it can amount to "psychological harassment". So will he rein them in?

When we met him, Gareth told us that he'd been concerned about the debt recovery*sector since the case of Beryl Baizer was brought to his attention. Beryl was a retired woman who eventually committed suicide as a result of the pressure she was under to pay a debt she was only, in a very small part, responsible for. *
Gareth said: "There's a responsibility on the debt collection agency to behave, to follow the law, to respect the code of practices that exist and to use reasonable standards of behaviour.*There's also a responsibility on the businesses that got the debts in the first place to hand over the right information."

The OFT can take action
The Government has recently given new powers to the OFT so that it can take action against these companies. Gareth informed us that the OFT has taken action against the debt collection agency, '1st Credit', who've been told that they've got to raise their standard of performance otherwise they face the threat of either a 50,000 fine or having their license to operate in the industry taken away. This is the 14th company the OFT have taken enforcement action against and there are a series of other investigations in the pipeline.

Gareth agreed that it was a clear warning sign to some of the companies to get their act together and said: "They need to raise their game, they need to raise standards across the industry otherwise further enforcement action can be taken."

Until then more people like Sonja will be sent bullying letters for debts they don't owe.*

Read our debt advice page and download our template letter if you're being asked for a debt you don't think you owe.

Watchdog contacted the companies involved in Christopher Fitzpatrick's case. Advantis told us: "We've reviewed our records on this matter and can confirm that we contacted Mr Fitzpatrick based on information on the electoral roll that suggested that he was present at the address when the debt was incurred. Having now received more information, all collection activity has ceased. We take any allegation of non-compliance to the OFT guidelines very seriously. Having reviewed this case we don't believe that we've breached OFT guidelines."

British Gas said: "We don't believe it's fair to the vast majority of customers who pay their bills to pass on the cost of those who don't. This is why we make every effort to establish who's responsible for unpaid bills. If we're unable to do so, we may pass unpaid debts to third party collection agencies. We'd like to apologise to Mr Fitzpatrick for any concern caused by the letters from Advantis Credit. Neither Advantis Credit nor British Gas will be contacting him again about the unpaid bill."

In response to the OFT action '1st Credit' told Watchdog: "We have an ongoing and positive dialogue with the OFT as we seek constantly to improve our business practices and ensure that the highest standards are met and exceeded. We have, since late 2008, made improvements in our training and processes in all of the areas highlighted, and suggested proposals in response to the OFT requirements which were accepted by them. We continue to seek to improve our processes and welcome the recognition by the OFT of the constructive approach that we've taken in response to the matters raised."



Debt recovery agencies
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Old 4th November 2009, 05:03 PM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

Hi Tony,

A couple of years ago T-Mobile chased me for some phone charges which they never proved I owed them. This is despit the fact I got in touch with via telephone, email and even mail. After first speaking with me, they refused to return any of my calls or emails.

A few weeks later I received a letter from a debt collection agency asking for ovr 600. I was going to contest it but then thought I'd just pay it to get them off my back as I had just moved home and had enough other things to worry about.

Just today I've received another letter from T-Mobile and another debt collection agency asking for more money saying I cancelled my contract early, two years later. And they still haven't proven I owe the original amount.

Can I do something about that 600+ I've already paid them and demand proof from them? I still have the original letters and bills from T-Mobile and the debt collection agency.

Thanks.

P.S. I also have another question: Why are companies like T-Mobile allowed to just pass on debts to collection agencies without providing proof to the customer of the money they're supposed to owe? Surely this is not just the job of the collecting agency to prove, but also of the company passing on the debt.
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Old 27th April 2010, 03:12 PM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

I have stumbled across this thread and I have to say first of all that I am from the evil world of debt recovery but think that I can offer some advice in this.
One thing I would say is that the debt recovery business is, in the main, improving its methods from within and the industry is starting to understand that ethical professional methods are actually more effective than some of the practises that are being talked about here.
My advice to any person that feels intimidated or unfairly treated by a collection agency should immediately inform them that you are going to report them to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). I can tell you from persoanl experience that this works and once this threat gets back to Senior members of the company involved, you should see a change in attitude.
My 82 year old Mother was being harranged by an agency instructed by Barclays bank. The bank had sold her a loan, which was crazy in the first instance becasue she has no income other than state pension and unbeknown to me was struggling to pay it back. The first I heard was when I was their for Lunch and she took a call from a debt collection agency. The guy from the agency actually said to her that she risked ...commital. I could see my mother was stressed and took over the call. Within 2 minutes I had an apology from the boss of the firm.
Unfortunately, sometimes you are talking to a call centre person, who is having some sport and has no care about the possible implications of what they say.
I would ask for their consumer credit license number and tell them that unless they stop, you will report them to the OFT. I run a highly ethical agency which prides itself on offering a correct service and I have to say I would immediately deal with any situation where this was threatened....which it never has, or will be to us.
gbpimney.co.uk
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Old 27th April 2010, 03:28 PM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

Gregg and Tony,

To me it's not just about the agencies, although it has a lot to do with how they operate.

To me it's more about the fact that companies like T-Mobile can just pass on these so-called debts to these agencies without having to prove they are owed in the first instance.

Once the DCAs get the case, it's as if only they are responsible, when the fact is the original culprit is the one passing on that debt to the agency.

From what I understand, the government turns a blind eye to companies like T-Mobile as they pay licence fees to the government to the tune of billions every five years or so.

Is it any wonder they do whatever they want and get away with it?
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Old 27th April 2010, 10:13 PM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

Over the last 12 months, I have been intermittantly pursued by various DCA's for a debt of approximatley 26, relating to an old T mobile contract, which I believe was settled & paid about 5 or 6 years ago.

The DCA's in question are Lowell Group, Red Debt Collections & Phillips. I have written to Red as they were threatening to send bailiffs to my home. I had previously contacted Lowell & advised that I was disputing the debt. Lowell had assured me they would hold any further action, which they clearly didn't as they had passed the debt to Red less than 14 days after my initial contact with them. I wrote to Red (sent recorded delivery) delivery to Red was confirmed and as I recieved no response from them, I took no further action. This all took place about 12 months ago, I have heared nothing further until today.

A voice text message has today been left on my parents landline (goodness knows how they got hold of that as I've not lived there for 10 years!) from Phillips DCA - again pursuing the 26 T mobile debt. I ring the number left on the message and speak to the operative. She confirms the amount owing. I state that this is in dispute, so she needs to hold further action to allow me time to contact T mobile & also go back through my records to obtain proof of payment. She advises that she cvant put the account on hold and that I need to pay it with her NOW or they will continue to pusue the debt. She states that if I can prove it was paid, then I can lodge a claim for reimbursement and they will decide to reimburse me ''if appropriate''!!!!!

I then point out that under the consumer credit act, they have to hold any action if a balance is in dispute, for the duration of time it takes for the dispute to be resolved. (I actually work within a credit control environment myself so am familiar with legislation and know that the law is, quite rightly, in favour of the debtor rather than the creditor) Still she refuses to put my account on hold & pushes again for payment. I then ask to speak to a supervisor, at which point she puts me on hold, then comes back & advises she will hold action for 14 days.

I cannot believe that DCA's are allowed to operate using such tactics. Surely it is unreasonable to ask a client to pay off a debt that is in dispute in order to stop further action being taken (in my case I was threatened with bailiffs) when legislation states that in the caase of a dispute action must be held. I feel this alone would be grounds for revoking the liscence of this particular company!!

Has anyone had any similar experiences with the DCA's mentioned above? I know it's only 26 but it's the principle - I am sure that this is how these people make money - by using bullying tactics in the hope that people will be too scared to question further. The operative I spoke to even admitted that ''breakdown of communication'' was quite common, in that the various DCA's sometimes failed to let the creditors know when a client had paid off a debt! If I pay the 26 to get them off my back, whats the betting that these unscrupulous companies will pull another imaginary debt out of this air & pursue me for that as well?!
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Old 27th April 2010, 10:37 PM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

Quote:
Originally Posted by katykate27 View Post
Over the last 12 months, I have been intermittantly pursued by various DCA's for a debt of approximatley 26, relating to an old T mobile contract, which I believe was settled & paid about 5 or 6 years ago.

The DCA's in question are Lowell Group, Red Debt Collections & Phillips.
Lowell and Red, I think, are the same ones chasing me.

However, even more to the point is the comment you've made here:

Quote:
26, relating to an old T mobile contract, which I believe was settled & paid about 5 or 6 years ago.
The fact that T-Mobile continually abuse the system. They never seem to have to prove the money is owed and just pass on the debt to a DCA.

If firms had to prove why the money is owed, they wouldn't be able to pass the debt to a DCA in the first instance without doing so.
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Old 8th May 2010, 01:23 PM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

I am being targeted by DCA'S their is no other word to some it up they have contacted me before and the matter had i thought been settled.

They are chasing me for a debt at an address i live at over three years ago which i do not even owe.

i work within the financial industry and i sent the following:

Dear Sirs

You recently sent me a letter asking me to contact you concerning a matter to do with the following address:

14 searle close
Chelmsford
Essex
CM2 9GB

I want to make the following abundently clear, i have not lived at the above address for over 3 years and suggest you have the wrong person.When i left the above property all bills were paid in full.

If further attempts are made to contact me concerning this matter i will contact the following agencies and report you for dubious practices.

FSA
office of fair trading
BBC watch dog
consumer credit agency

Please return this email with confirmation that no further contact will not be made.


Regards

Mr Benjamin Barber

Has anyone got any further advise?
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Old 9th July 2013, 11:35 AM
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Post Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

I stumbled across this post, I realise it's a little stale and I ask you to forgive me for necroing an old forum thread but I thought I would take the time to enlighten people about how debt recovery agencies obtain there personal details in order to chase them about outstanding debts.

In the debt collection game those people are refered to as absconding debtors.

I used to work as a debt collection telephone tracing agent, to cut a long story short, I would simply like to say that most debt recovery practices are illegal. I too found myself falling into debt with my choice of bank, what happened was I set-up direct debits with PayPal in the EU. I then found my account repeatedly in the red IE: Overdrawn

Then the Bank was ever so kind to notify me about the fact I had gone past my agreed overdraft limit, they did that after paying the direct debits forcing my account into the Red.

Their choice of how to notify me of this infraction was to send me a letter telling me they had levied a fine for 35 plus an additional surcharge of another 35 for having to notify me about that fact. (wow, thats some expensive paper and ink!)

So in total left to repay from recieving a letter and going overdrawn past the limit was 70

Which I then paid off and instructed the Bank to no longer process any further direct debits. This was placed in writing and signed sealed and delivered to my bank branch manager whom assured me they would not pay out any additional payments.

They then contacted me two weeks later with another letter.. 35 for being past your limit plus an additional 35 for the notification.

At that point I had reached the end of my rope. I was in between housing as I was struggling to pay my rent, I was cold, I was hungry and I was ticked off. So how did I respond?

I went out and did a 250.00 of shopping and stuck it straight on the card before whomever the moron handling my account was realised the card was being rinced.

For the better part of a week, I was fed, watered and managed to look out for myself better than I had been having to try and pay there charges off.

I knew I could never replay it but at the time being homeless and in a hostel, I didnt really care.

Now approx ten years later, I have debt collection agencies writing to myself expressing an interest in recovery. Only they dont want to recover the 250.00 they want 39'000 because that was what the bank attributed to a homeless guys account with a 75.00 a week charge.

So they've passed it over to a debt recovery agency.. The kind of agency I used to at one time work for...

I can tell you exactly how these people obtain results. It's a standard practice in the debt recovery buisness to break the law in more ways than one.

Firstly, they can not write to you about any outstanding debts over more than two years old if you've moved address, because in order to track you down to your new address they have breached the Data Protection Act which stipulates "You may not use a persons personal private or priledged information to cause them any undue distress"

Secondly, how they find people... They love it if your in the telephone book, the first place they look is 192 and see if your name flags up in the area you used to reside.

That is what they call a positive trace!

How they find you is from old utility bills forwarded to your new address with postal redirects, your Job as a telephone tracing agent involves calling up the Post Office as the indervidual you are looking to track down.. The telephone conversation usually goes along the lines of the following "can I confirm what forwarding address I placed on file for my correspondance please, because with the hub-bub of moving at the last minute I cant remember which address I gave you to forward my post to, was it my brothers house or my mothers house, can you just confirm the door number and the post code please?"

Dont think they stop there, then what they'll do is call up the Job-center plus offices if they're in possession of your national insurance number claiming they went self employed but still havent recieved the self employed forms..

This all takes place from an office with dedicated with-held numbers...

They might not be able to find you in the phone book but that wont stop them calling your naighbor next door claiming to be 'parcel-force' wanting to confirm that you live next door as they have a delivery for you at your address.

All they're looking for is the positive trace so they can claim commission on the debts.

They actually pay the Banks to buy your information from them in complete violation of the Data Protection Act.

I got a letter from one such agency yesterday chasing me about a debt that is over 10 years old. They're dreaming if they think I'll give them a god damn penny and having worked in a debt recovery role I am well aware of all the tricks.

They'll threaten you with court action, let them, it costs them 60 each and everytime they file a claim against you and when you fail to show up at the county court arraginment. Just move address, up and move and let them continue to chase you.

County court judgements are simply peoples way of trying to shove you into a corner and make you pay back what they seem to think you owe them and the bank despite the fact they could be totally in the wrong. My advice is fight them off with tooth and nail, if you get a debt collection notice, DO NOT RESPOND to it, RESPONDING to it is almost like getting a flag and waving it saying "please screw me I am here!"

They'll have a long wait for 250.00 with a 75 a week on-top charge for a period of close enough ten years which now equates to 39'000 in total debt.

County court judgements are not worth the paper they're printed on, if its a magistrates or a crown then you have to attend, but if its a county court, you are not obligated to attend a hearing over a civil dispute but rather can do as I did and just continue moving around, living in abandoned buildings having the county court sherrif send you notice your trespassing on private property with a fine levied at you for 275.00 in court fee's and then just up and move. Ten years later they'll still be looking for you... But sooner or later they'll get the message.

With any luck, maybe it'll one day happen to them when the debt recovery agency their working for lay's them off for failing to produce results!

I absolutely love and adore the letter they sent me, we obtained your address from a credit reference agency.. What complete and utter hog-wash!?! What credit agency is going to approve credit to a self confessed squatter with three unpaid CCJ's for trespass against his name?

I often think to myself these debt collection agencies seem to lack the appropriate reflection of just how close to a petulant child they come across as:

"You owe them money, we've bought the debt, now you owe us the money, if you fail to pay we'll yada, yada, yada...!"

Yes, love, your lips keep moving but all we the general public hear is "Blah, blah, blah!"
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Old 29th June 2014, 07:53 AM
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Default Re: BBC Watchdog: Debt recovery agencies

Hi Tony,
I am very upset as got letter from debt collector that I owe nearly 4000 to EDF Energy from july 2012 to march 2014 but I never contacted EDF for gas usage. Look like someone used my details for that address. I never had any contract with landlord/landlady/agent. Also i lived that address for a month only and i have proof as bank statement that i was living at other addresses. I contacted debt collector and gave them proof as he told me over the phone that i should send him bank statement or tenancy agreement if i got so i did where i have tenancy agreement for actual address where i was living from march 2013 to march 2014. He accepted this period and he told EDF energy to amend the bill but asking for rest of the period July 2012 to march 2013 as tenancy for another address which i don't have but got bank statement which he didn't accept it. There is no point of amend the bill or something as i never used EDF gas and never asked them to give me gas. i never had any contract with EDF and never asked for their plans for gas. Its harassment and EDF must contact the persons who were living their for that period of time. I 'm not going to pay a singe penny to them as wherever I lived I paid my living expenses. Please advice me as soon as possible that i can be avoided further threats.
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