Imaan Wright, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

General Election 2024: Protecting people from aggressive debt collection

26 June 2024 

  • Earlier this month, we set out five steps we want the next government to take to boost financial inclusion and protect people’s mental health.
  • This blog looks in detail at our second ask: protecting people from the devastation caused by aggressive debt collection.
  • Our research shows how aggressive debt collection tactics can leave people feeling harassed and overwhelmed, and in some cases can trigger suicidal thoughts and feelings.
  • We want the next government to place clear limits on how often creditors contact people about missed payments. 
  • We also want the next government to regulate the bailiff industry to crack down on  harmful misconduct.

The general election is fast approaching so over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been sharing our top five policy ideas for the next government far and wide. From prevention to intervention, our ideas would help whoever takes power to boost financial inclusion and protect mental health. 

Our first blog in this series outlined the link between money and mental health problems and the urgent need for joined up support. Today, we’re exploring ask number two in more detail – tackling the immediate harm caused by the cost of living crisis

Financial difficulty and suicide

The link between financial difficulty and suicide is strong. Our research shows that people in arrears are almost four times more likely to have experienced suicidal thoughts due to the cost of living crisis, and nearly 1 in 7 who are behind on at least one payment have attempted to take their own life. 

Suicide is complex and while there are normally a wide range of factors leading to someone feeling suicidal, our research has shown that aggressive debt collection practices can drive feelings of fear and helplessness, and act as a trigger.

A two-pronged approach

With millions still struggling with household bills and the number of UK mortgages in arrears at an eight year high, the need for the next government to take action against aggressive debt collection practices couldn’t be more pressing. Our five steps set out two key ways they can do this. 

Placing clear limits on how often creditors contact people about missed payments

Our research last year found nearly half (48%) of people behind on consumer credit payments reported feeling harassed or overwhelmed by the frequency of contact from lenders. But unlike other countries, there are no firm rules in the UK about how often lenders can contact people about overdue payments. Similarly, there is no obligation for them to consider the cumulative impact of collections activity on people with multiple debts. This is concerning given that 83% of people in arrears are behind on multiple consumer credit products. We heard from our Research Community how the volume of contact about missed payments can drive feelings of helplessness, dread and anxiety.

“Phone calls, receipt of emails and letters demanding repayment sent my anxiety levels through the roof and increased the severity of my depression. When my debts were passed on to debt collection agencies, the negative impacts on my mental health were multiplied by 10 times. I made four serious suicide attempts as I could not see any other way out of the debts I had incurred.” – Research Community Member 

By placing clear limits on how often creditors can contact people about their debts, the next government can help minimise the psychological harm being caused by debt collection practices. Reducing that unnecessary distress will also help people feel in a better position to deal with their debts, which benefits creditors too.


Regulating the bailiff industry

We have long campaigned for change in the debt collection industry, and whilst we have welcomed improvements such as reforms to intimidating and outdated debt collection letters, bailiffs have continued to routinely break government rules with impunity. Research by Citizen’s Advice shows that amongst those who have been contacted by bailiffs:

  • 1 in 5 have experienced a threat to break in to their home 
  • Almost 2 in 5 experienced intimidation 
  • 1 in 5 saw them act unsympathetically towards people with illnesses and disabilities.

“Even though I said I had no money to give them, they said I had to pay the money back. I explained my mental health situation, and it was considered irrelevant. The sound of impatience and the ‘here we go’ sighs and attitude of the caller.” – Expert by experience

For far too long, bailiffs have been able to harass and intimidate people because there is no independent regulator for the industry. The next government should put an end to the devastation that this aggressive behaviour causes by introducing statutory regulation for the industry, with real teeth to tackle misconduct by bailiffs. That would go a long way in stopping rogue misconduct from bailiffs and minimising the psychological damage caused by aggressive debt collection, particularly for people with mental health problems.

Small steps with big impact

By cracking down on aggressive debt collection practices, the next government has the power to not only change, but save lives. It is well established that suicide rates often rise after a period of recession – so this is an opportunity too valuable and important to be missed. 

Vital steps have already been taken to reform the way creditors contact people in arrears, but we know from the experiences of our Research Community that more must be done.

We want to work with whoever forms the next government to put our steps into action.  

Read our five steps for the next government in full here.