Shocked woman reading debt collection letter

Debt Collectors Forced to Stand Down on Menacing Letters

As millions slip into arrears as a result of Covid-19, new rules mean changes to how debt collection letters are written.

The Stop the Debt Threats campaign was launched almost two years ago. Now, the government has agreed to ban threatening Default Notices.

If we are falling behind on our debts, we can be sent a Default Notice, which is meant to give us warning before lenders take further action. The way these notices are written has not been updated in nearly 40 years.

The campaign was based on research by the Money and Mental Health Institute. Their research found that intimidating letters sent to people in debt can be a trigger for suicide. Debt letters are often written in capital letters, are full of legal terms we don’t understand and include threats of court action. Unsurprisingly letters like this can leave us feeling isolated, hopeless and trapped.

Right now our mental health has never been so fragile. Lockdown and the financial impact of the pandemic means that many of us are struggling with anxiety and depression. 

The new rules, agreed by the government, are expected to come into force in December 2020. 

Here’s what will change:

  • Large chunks of text will no longer be written in capital letters, or bold or underlined text – most of us read this as being shouted at. 
  • Letters will be easier to understand, by adding explanations of complex legal terms where they have to be used.
  • Signposting – which was previously out of date – will be updated to help people find free debt advice.

Martin Lewis, founder and chair of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute charity, said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that this change could save lives. Over 100,000 in England attempt to take their lives each year due to debts. 

“Today’s changes will make the most distressing debt letters much less intimidating, and crucially will also easily and calmly point people in serious debt to get the free, non-profit, debt advice they need.”

Worried about debt?

For the latest news on bailiffs and the coronavirus, read our piece, the Bailiffs are Back.

There are lots of things we can do to prevent ourselves from falling into debt. Take a look at our Budget Bootcamp for practical ways we can stay on top of our money.

If we are worried about debt, we can contact the charity StepChange, for free, on 0800 138 1111 or Citizens Advice.

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