Helen Undy, Director, Money and Mental Health
You can help us stop the #DebtThreats
*Trigger warning* This blog contains content about suicide that may be triggering for some readers.
04 December 2018
This week we launch a new campaign with a straightforward intention: we want to save lives.
Every year over 100,000 people in England alone consider suicide while they are struggling in problem debt. That’s 100,000 people like Jerome Rogers, who took his own life at the age of just 20, while being pursued by bailiffs. 100,000 people like Nigel Hurst who killed himself last year after being declared bankrupt. Every single life lost, or suicide attempted, is a tragedy – but 100,000 every year in the midst of escalating debt is nothing short of a scandal. We need your help to tackle this.
A debt trap
Our new research found that people in problem debt are three times more likely to have considered suicide than people who do are not. And while there are always many complex factors that lead someone to feeling suicidal, the link with problem debt is indisputable.
“Not having enough money means almost every part of life becomes a struggle… always being hungry, or cold, not being able to socialise…chips away at your will to live.”
We identified a range of long-term financial factors driving feelings of hopelessness, including poverty and financial insecurity, and our report makes recommendations to help tackle those. But we also identified a number of much more sudden triggers, such as the intimidating and threatening letters that people get from their creditors.
Dreading the post
“To be in debt and to have people calling up to fifteen times a day, to have your voicemail full, to have the postman open your letterbox with even more debt letters with even more threats – is too much for anyone. You think your life isn’t worth living.”
Letters from debt collectors can be intimidating and hard to understand, full of complex legal language and threats of court action. And the truth is that the law doesn’t just allow lenders to get away with sending these threatening letters, it makes them do it. A law written decades ago sets out the exact wording that must be included in letters to people struggling with repayments for most types of credit (from overdrafts to credit and store cards, payday loans and personal loans). It includes phrases like:
“IF YOU DO NOT TAKE THE ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE BEFORE THE DATE SHOWN THEN THE FURTHER ACTION SET OUT BELOW MAY BE TAKEN AGAINST YOU [OR A SURETY].”
And advice like:
“YOU CAN APPLY TO THE COURT WHICH MAY MAKE AN ORDER ALLOWING YOU OR ANY SURETY MORE TIME.”
“IF YOU ARE NOT SURE WHAT TO DO…YOU SHOULD CONTACT A SOLICITOR.”
In reality, however, most of us don’t know what a ‘surety’ is, or how to apply to a court, or have access to a solicitor. In truth, the most useful thing that you can do if you receive one of these letters and you can’t make your repayments, is to contact a debt advice charity. Yet the law dictates that, even if lenders choose to include this important signposting to help, it cannot be as prominent as the intimidating messages above which must be in bold, capitals or in red to stand out. With many people receiving multiple letters like this every day, it’s no wonder that so many are left feeling panicked and hopeless.
We want to change the law
These rules were intended to help people understand their rights, but they’re having the opposite effect. Unintelligible or intimidating letters are left unopened, stuffed in drawers or put straight in the bin, and people are left unsure where to turn.
We’re calling on the government to change the out-of-date legislation dictating the content of these letters. In particular, new rules are needed to make the language easier to understand, and to prominently signpost people to help. We believe this will save lives.
“I often thought about suicide as a way out of the financial mess I was in and I really believed that my family did not need me or would miss me… At this point my mental health counsellor introduced me to a really helpful outreach worker from the local Citizens Advice Bureau… I just wish I had met her much earlier.”
Sign the petition
You can back the campaign by signing our petition today, and sharing it on social media. It’s time to stop the #DebtThreats.