BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 18:09 UK

Have Your Say: Debt collection

A 10 note and coins

The debt collection industry estimates its members try to trace nine million people a year.

The worry is that people could be pursued for money they do not owe, simply because they share the same name.

Have you been chased for a debt that was not yours?

What could be done to stop this happening?

What could credit reference agencies do to protect the innocent?

We asked for your comments, a selection of which are below. This debate is now closed.


Received a demand from a debt collection agency for an amount outstanding to a utility company. When I phoned them it took them less than 20 seconds to tell me "mistake". When I asked them for written proof they said, "OK", now they say "can't send letters to everyone". Hmmm they already sent me a letter of demand. So they have no proof of debt. Send me a false claim and I must just believe it's all fine because they say so. Now I have to pay for a credit check, the phone calls and the time spent fixing this. All I wanted was confirmation that the debt is not mine and that my credit rating has not been compromised.
Arthur, Middlesbrough

The broadband provider has apologised to me and admitted that it was their mistake ... yet the demands for payment continue.


I am being harassed by a debt collection company for a debt they claim is owing to a broadband provider. The broadband provider has apologised to me and admitted that it was their mistake and that I owe them nothing and assured me that they would contact the debt collection company to that effect, yet the demands for payment continue.

I have been chased by 2 different companies for debts incurred by someone (allegedly) with the same name & date of birth. The first company were unbelievably rude which I now believe to be a tactic to encourage you to pay up even if the debt is not yours. They sent me a letter saying that my case for bankruptcy was being heard in Nottingham and if I did not reply within 7 days ..... I now suspect that that document is not valid either. It was a horrendous experience. The second company accepted the evidence as supplied to the first and have this week written to apologise.
Sue, Sudbury

I am also being pursued for a debt that is not mine by the company mentioned in your programme, Aktiv Kapital. If this continues I shall be taking this issue to my local MP, and suggest that everyone else affected does the same thing.
Rowena, London

I arrived home for a visit after long trip away working to find a letter addressed to a name so similar to mine that I thought spelling errors were the fault so I opened it. It said that bailiffs where arriving. It referenced a debt for council tax for a property in Southend on Sea. As I have never lived there and pay my council tax by direct debit, I called to ask why I had this letter. In fact they said as the letter was not addressed to me I need not have opened it! Having done so in error I was then obliged to send the debt collectors a utility bill and a letter stating I never lived in Southend. I felt very isolated and afraid and realised that you are not safe even when you have a legitimate address in which you reside obeying our laws. Bernie / Bromley
Bernie, Bromley

This kind of thing should not happen and it caused me a financial loss and stopped me getting credit for years.
James, Liverpool

I was pressured by a debt collection agency for a debt that was not mine back in 2002. I though it could have been mine but in 2007 I found out it was not mine just a person with a similar name as mine I ended up paying his debt and only recovered my money back at the end of 2007. This kind of thing should not happen and it caused me a financial loss and stopped me getting credit for years.
James, Liverpool

We had a number of letters delivered to our house about an unpaid debt. Somehow our house name and address have been linked to three men who were reported to live at our house. The debt was for unpaid council tax in the London borough of Croydon. We have never lived in Croydon! I am still getting letters from another company- I think the information has been passed on- I am now returning them unopened.
Janet, Carnforth

My mother is in her 70s, in ill-health, and is currently being hounded by a number of debt collection agencies for various debts incurred by someone she doesn't know who's been using her address. The debts are for anything from mobile phone companies, to internet goods, to personal loans. She has been spending her own money on replying to every letter she receives, hanging on the phone endlessly at call centres - trying to explain to ever different customer service reps that she doesn't know the debtor and has had her address used fraudulently.

She has had several customer service reps assure her over the phone that they recognise a mistake has been made and that they will amend records - only to then have a bailiff come round to the house.

She is getting increasingly worried and anxious about the situation where no-one will actually listen, and then ACT on what she is telling them. She feels utterly powerless and somehow is made to feel guilty for something that is not any of her doing. As someone else said in this forum, the debt collection 'machine' just seems to run on auto-pilot riding rough-shod over genuinely innocent people.
Victoria, West Sussex

After paying to access my report the entry in question clearly showed a date of birth that was not my own as well as a different spelling of my name!
Stephen, Manchester

I am receiving debt collection notices for someone who shares my name, which has cost me a sum of money in interest due to a credit card rejection as well as having to pay for the privilege to view my information. There are a number of issues with this system, namely, the unaccountability of the debt collectors, the fact you have to pay to regulate your own information and scope for further fraudulent activity. The debt collection company I spoke to would not discuss the account until I gave them my date of birth and mother's maiden name. It is quite conceivable that an organisation could use this method to gain sensitive information.

Furthermore, credit reference agencies are appending information to peoples reports that is obviously incorrect. After paying to access my report the entry in question clearly showed a date of birth that was not my own as well as a different spelling of my name! I'm sure it would be quite simple and automatable to have this information checked before an entry is made. It is not in these companies interest to do so, however, as it encourages people to subscribe.
Stephen, Manchester

Not a case of mistaken identity but an unusual approach from a collection agency.

In April this year I received a letter from a debt collection agency threatening court action for a debt of £108. Since I was not aware of any outstanding debts I rang the firm (not using the higher rate number they listed) to be told the debt related to books allegedly ordered between Nov 2006 and June 2007. I was then offered a substantial discount if I paid up within 7 days!! This "Double glazing sales" approach to debt collection made me doubly determined to prove I did not owe the alleged debt.

I had joined a book club in 2006 and had had great difficulty in stopping the books and returning those that were delivered so did in fact receive bills at that time, but I had cleared this all up by July 2007. I was lucky, although I could not find the proof of posting certificate I did find a copy of the covering letter I sent when returning the books which I copied to the collection agency. I have heard nothing since - not even an acknowledgement of my letter. I just hope I don't get another letter in 2 years time.
Peter, Oxford is much easier for the innocent person to pay than it is to get the matter resolved and then ones credit file cleaned up.
Luke, Southeast

It is very wrong that Credit Reference Agencies will accept information from any company - including Debt Collectors without taking any steps to verify the data is accurate.

This leaves a Debt Collection Agency free to destroy your credit rating, for a debt that isn't yours, Credit References agencies refuse correct this data (you can add a note - but no-one looks at it, and your credit rating remains destroyed).

Unscrupulous Debt Collections Agencies, no doubt use this as a method to get payment from non-debtors, as it is much easier for the innocent person to pay than it is to get the matter resolved and then ones credit file cleaned up.
Luke, Southeast

In 2006 my wife was pursued by a credit agency for over £13000 for a debt. After involving the local police, we were advised on a course of action. Many letters followed, always doubting our innocence. These companies are nothing short of bullies and their attitude is you are guilty and it is up to you to prove otherwise. After nearly three months they seemed to get the message and the letters stopped. Last week over three years later it has started again, still pursuing the same alleged debt. I consulted the police who advised me to warn these people that they are guilty of harassment and I have instructed a solicitor to inform them of this. As anyone who has had the misfortune to be in a similar position will know full well of the sheer frustration and the effect on your health it can have. We don't have the funds available to pursue these nasty people through the courts, many thanks Bernie
Bernie, Norfolk

The Office of Fair Trading Debt Collection Guidance ( states that:

False representation of authority and/or legal position

2.3 Those contacting debtors must not be deceitful by misrepresenting their authority and/or the correct legal position.

2.4 Examples of unfair practices are as follows:

f. pursuing third parties for payment when they are not liable

Physical/psychological harassment

2.5 Putting pressure on debtors or third parties is considered to be oppressive.

2.6 Examples of unfair practices are as follows:

h. ignoring and/or disregarding claims that debts have been settled or are disputed and continuing to make unjustified demands for payment

You could therefore consider a complaint to the OFT and inform the debt collection agency agencies that you intend to do so, and that the OFT has has a duty under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to ensure that licences are only given to and retained by those who are fit to hold them.

The OFT will not deal with individual complaints, however the more people who do complain, the more likely they are to look into a particular agency's business practices.

Jessica, London

I seem to recall that this sort of harassment is a criminal offence under the administration of justice act. Why is this not used, and if it has been tried what success has it had? If any one has knowledge on this then it would be nice to hear from them.

Jon, Wolverhampton

I still have not been able to get the linked addresses and false accounts off my files and do not know where to go.
Ian, Stockport

I have been having this issue for over 12 months now and it is just getting worse. I received letters from various debt collection agencies asking for money I did not owe. I checked my reference agency files and there were four linked addresses to mine that I had never lived in and then the wrong accounts started to appear on my files. I e-mailed all three agencies and told them it was wrong but they said it was not their responsibility to check if it was correct and I had to go back to the company which put the information on. Problem is, I do not know who that was. I suspect that there is a tracing agency somewhere that gets paid for tracking down missing debtors and they just pick a name that looks the same and tell the collection agency they have found them. I still have not been able to get the linked addresses and false accounts off my files and do not know where to go. I cannot afford a solicitor and am at my wits end.
Ian, Stockport

I've been chased by several debt agencies trying to locate a Mr S Parker at my address. I think agencies should be taken to court for harassment and the stress they are causing. I was sent a threatening letter saying that they will take my possessions. The companies should by named and shamed for their bullying tactics. I have contacted credit agencies and debt companies but the debt companies are still sending me letters.
S Parker

I received four letters one month for a debt of £383 which was not mine. I tried contacting the collection company but the number rang once then went dead. I e-mailed them and eventually they sent a different number. When I rang I was asked if I had ever lived at some address I had never heard of. The girl agreed that this was not my debt. I have since complained about their methods but have not received an acknowledgment or apology. I have also just been refused a credit card because of their enquiry to a credit reference agency yet my credit history is otherwise excellent.
Pauline, Northallerton

I have been dealing with a debt collection agency recently that has been pursuing my deceased father for money they claim he owed. When my lawyer told them he was deceased they demanded a copy of the death certificate. They then said the Mr Robertson they had on record was born in either 1971 or 1972. This is almost 20 years after my father was born and 10 years before I was. My lawyer explained this and asked for a copy of the bill and proof that they were chasing the correct man, however all they sent is another demand with no bill. They say they cannot give further information as the date on the death certificate does not match the date they have, so they would be breaching the Data Protection Act. We are therefore at a stalemate and because the estate is otherwise completed they are dragging things on and costing me a lot of money in lawyers fees!
Nick, Scotland

For about the past four years we have been receiving mail for a gentleman who I believe lives at another house in our street. I used to just redirect the mail but I have to admit I opened a letter once, and found that it was from a debt collection agency warning him the bailiffs would be sent to settle the debt. I wrote to the company and e-mailed them on several occasions informing them of their error but we still receive letters for this gentleman. I'm worried in case the bailiffs arrive at my door. I'm sure they won't believe me when I say he doesn't live here.
Leanne, Co Armagh

The card company has issued a full apology, corrected the credit agency information and paid me £1,500 compensation.

I was wrongly accused of entering into a debt agreement with a credit card company. I suspected something was wrong when I stopped receiving monthly statements and a joint application for a re-mortgage was turned down because of problem with my credit report. It turned out the card company had made a mistake on my account and entered information relating to a person with the same name and as me, who happens to live in the same street. The only difference was our middle names and date of birth. The card company has issued a full apology, corrected the credit agency information and paid me £1,500 compensation.

I was pursued for a debt of £4,000 which someone of my name owed. A bank wrote to me saying the debt had been passed to a debt collection agency. These people were unpleasant but agreed it was not my debt. In May another debt collector wrote to me at my new address about the same debt. When I rang them they agreed it was not me. The bank in question was difficult to contact and barely apologised. They would not write to me to confirm my credit rating had not been harmed. The bank has continually said it was not their fault and yet they released the information to debt collectors.
Nick, Canterbury

The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.

Money Box



Download or subscribe to this programme's podcast

Podcast Help

Mistaken identity debt case payout
16 Jun 09 |  Moneybox

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific