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Hope Springs Eternal

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It’s a sad old world, with the global credit crunch biting into every aspect of daily life, unemployment spiralling upwards, the housing market spiralling downwards, negative equity, repossessions by the score, and the banks refusing to lend, even to each other, despite the billions being poured into them by the hard pressed taxpayer.

And into this total mess and utter misery crawl the debt collectors, the modern day equivalent of the American carpet baggers after the civil war, reaping rewards on the backs of the down and out.

Of course debts have to be repaid where humanly possible, so it’s not the principle I object to, it’s the way these debts collectors go about it.  In my professional life, I am routinely asked about the right of these ghastly people to threaten, phone at all hours of the day and night, and worse still, to send in the thugs.

There is comfort to be drawn from a recent Court of Appeal case where the minnow took on the big battalions and won.  In that particular case the claimant was never in debt, she simply switched her provider from British Gas to nPower, and BG deluged her with letters demanding payment for non-existent services, threatening to cut off her supply and register her as a defaulter with all the credit agencies.  In a swingeing judgment by Lord Justice Jacob, BG was sent off with the proverbial flea in its ear and a bill for the claimant’s costs in excess of £10,000.  Had Jacob LJ been sitting with Isaacs and Abraham JJ, the judgment would have taken on biblical proportions, but no matter.  The point of the judgment was to send out a warning to creditors, real or imagined, to conform to proper business practices or risk a claim, or better still, prosecution under the Protection from Harassment Act.

The problem for most debtors is that they don’t have the resources to fight back.  To do so would put them further into debt, so that’s not an option, and going to the Citizens Advice Bureau can be a sterile exercise, as few of their ‘advisers’ are legally qualified and so have little to offer short of a shoulder to cry on.

Some of these debt collectors are regulated and therefore licensed by the Financial Services Authority, so if they overstep the mark, the FSA should step in.  Sadly, the FSA is badly holed below the waterline for not regulating the banks before they went into meltdown, so to coin a phrase, their authority is “more honoured in the breach than the observance.”  Still, if they threaten you, threaten them back by reporting them.

Best advice of all, if these debt collectors continue a campaign of threats and harassment, deny the debt, tell them not to contact you again, and if they do, you will report them for making unwarranted demands with menaces, which carries a fourteen year term of imprisonment.  That should shut them up for the time being, and if all else fails and the creditor decides to sue you, then so be it. Let him take you to court where you will find a reasonable and sympathetic judge who is enjoined by the Ministry of Justice to reach a sensible accommodation, and one you can afford.

Be of good cheer, it can only get worse!  But who knows what’s round the corner?  To coin another phrase, “hope springs eternal.”

David Osborne is a successful barrister, voice actor, author, media personality and public performer. In 1991 he hit the headlines nationwide and made legal history when he delivered his final speech to the jury entirely in verse. For this tour de force he was dubbed the Barrister Bard. For more information please visit www.david-osborne.com

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