Can debt collectors email you or message you at work?

Struggling with unaffordable debt and being chased by debt collectors can be really difficult and isolating. One of the concerns you may rightly have when dealing with debt collectors is whether they can email or message you at work.

Whether they can contact you at work or not, debt collection companies like Arvato Financial Solutions in the UK, Rocket Receivables in the US and Marshall Freeman in Australia all have to abide by credit rules set out in their respective countries, and they’re not allowed to harass, intimidate or embarrass you.

Remember that debt collection is a business, and debt collectors want to make a profit from you, so they can be persistent, even though they have a lot less power than they make out.

In this article, we’ll cover whether debt collectors can email or message you work, and the laws they have to follow in the US, UK and Australia.

Can debt collectors email you or message you at work?

In some circumstances, debt collectors can email and message you at work, but it is illegal for them to do so in a way that reveals that you owe a debt or that they are a debt collector.

While debt collectors can contact your employer for limited reasons, they aren’t allowed to reveal to your employer, co-workers or any other third-party that you’re in debt, and they must stop contacting you at work if you demand that they do so.

Let’s dive right in, and look at whether debt collectors can email or message you at work.

United States

Can debt collectors email you or message you at work in the US?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) lays out certain rules that debt collectors have to follow when contacting you at work, and the FDCPA doesn’t explicitly use the word ’email’ we can assume this refers to all forms of contact.

Debt collectors can email or message you at work, but not in a way which violates your right to privacy when it comes to your debt, or is threatening or abusive.

For example, if your emails aren’t confidential at work and can be read by other employees on the system, a debt collector could be breaching both data protection and FDCPA laws by revealing your debt.

While a debt collector is allowed to contact your employer and ask them for your address and to ascertain proof that you’re employed, they are not allowed to allowed to tell your employer or any other third-party about your debt, which may well defeat the purpose of calling (to embarrass you into paying your debts). If they do tell your employer, they’re breaking FDCPA laws.

What are my rights when debt collectors contact me at work?

Your rights when debt collectors contact you at work include the fact that:

  • Debt collectors are not allowed to email or message you at work if you tell them that you’re not allowed to take personal calls or messages at work.
  • Debt collectors cannot contact your boss or another third-party at your work, via email, messages or any other form of communication, for any other reason than to confirm your employment. They cannot reveal, implicitly or explicitly, that you owe a debt or that they are a debt collector.
  • Debt collectors aren’t allowed to contact you at a place which is unusual or which they know will be inconvenient to you. So, your place of work could well come under this description.
  • You can demand that debt collectors stop contacting, at work or otherwise, and they have to comply with this. Once you’ve sent debt collectors a letter demanding that they stop contact, they can only contact you to say that they’re stopping contact or that they’re filing a lawsuit against you. Asking a debt collector to stop contacting you won’t stop them from being able to sue you and garnishing (automatically taking) some of your wages, for example, so make sure you have a plan in place to deal with your debt before it gets this far.
  • Debt collectors cannot email, message or communicate with you in any way at work or otherwise before 8 am or after 9pm, and they are not allowed to contact you repeatedly, as this counts as harassment.

The only exceptions to the fact that debt collectors can’t contact you or your employer at your workplace in a way which people know about your debt, is if you’ve given them permission to contact you at work, or there’s a court judgement against you and the court needs information from your employer to carry it out.

United Kingdom

Can debt collectors email you or message you at work in the UK?

Similarly to the US, debt collectors in the UK can email you and message you at work, but not in a way that reveals to a third-party – for example, your employer or co-workers – that you owe a debt.

So, if a debt collector uses your work email to contact you, and your employer can read this email, they are in breach of debt collection rules, and you can report them to the Financial Ombudsman, who can order the debt collection company to put things right.

In the UK, a debt collector cannot contact you on a social media platform (such as, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), including at work, and if they do so, they are in breach of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) rules.

What are my rights when debt collectors contact me at work?

Your rights when debt collectors contact you at work include the fact that:

  • Debt collectors cannot email, message or contact you in any way, at work or otherwise, outside the hours of 8am-9pm, as well as on weekends or public holidays.
  • Debt collectors cannot let your employer, co-workers or any other third party know that you owe a debt, or that they are a debt collector. Debt collectors have to submit to rules laid out by the FCA not to publicly embarrass you, which includes sending emails or asking others to pass on messages in a way that lets third parties know you’re being pursued for a debt.
  • You have the right to a 30 day breathing space (the government will soon be extending this to a 60 day breathing space due to the financial pressures of Covid-19), where debt collectors must stop all contact with you (including emails and messages while you’re at work) while you organise a plan to deal with your debts. It’s a good idea to use this time to get free support from a debt charity. If you’ve suffered with mental illness and need mental health crisis treatment, you’ll get a special breathing space, which lasts for the duration of your mental health treatment, no matter how long it takes.
  • Debt collectors cannot email and message you repeatedly, whether you’re at work or elsewhere, as this counts as harassment, which you can report to the FCA and Financial Ombudsman.

Australia

Can debt collectors email you or message you at work in Australia?

It isn’t usually appropriate for a debt collector to email, message or call you at work, unless you allow them to, However, they may try to email or message you at work if you don’t respond to them outside of work. If a debt collector does email or message you at work, they’re not allowed to do so in a way that reveals to anyone else that they are a debt collector or that you’re in debt. A debt collector is allowed to contact your employer, but only to check details such as your address or phone number, and that you’re in employment. If a debt collector does email or message you or your employer in a way that lets people other than yourself know about your debt, they are breaking Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) laws.

What are my rights when debt collectors contact me at work?

Your rights when debt collectors contact you at work, include the fact that:

  • Debt collectors are only allowed to contact you a maximum of three times a week in Australia, at your workplace or not. This includes via text or email, as a debt collector doesn’t have to speak to you directly for this to be classed as contact. If a debt collector emails or messages you more than this, you can complain to an Ombudsman service such as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
  • Debt collectors cannot email or message you or your employer in a way which reveals that you owe a debt, or that they’re a debt collector. So, if a debt collector emails you via your work email, and this isn’t confidential, they could be in breach of ACCC laws.
  • As well as not telling your employer or any other third-party at your workplace about your debt, a debt collector must protect your personal information and data when contacting your workplace. You can contact the Office of the Australia Information and Privacy Commissioner, Angelene Falk, if you feel a debt collector has breached privacy laws in contacting your workplace.
  • A debt collector cannot email or message you or your employer at at work outside or your usual working hours, or, if these aren’t known, 9-5pm on weekdays.
  • You can request debt collectors to stop contacting you. It’s illegal for a debt collector to continue contacting you if you’ve told them in writing that they should no longer communicate with you about the debt, whether at work or elsewhere. Once you’ve told a debt collector to cease contact, they can only contact you to say they are taking legal action against you, or to issue a default notice on your debt. It’s important to note that asking a debt collector to stop contacting you won’t stop them from taking you to court and getting a court order to, for example, repossess your property or goods, so make sure you have a plan in place to organise your debts.

5 steps to take when debt collectors email or message you

Although it can be stressful to get an email or message from a debt collector (especially if your original creditor has sold your debt on to a debt collector, and you don’t recognise the name of the company chasing you), try to stay calm. You actually have a lot of legal protection as the debtor. Here are four steps you should take when a debt collector emails or messages you:

Don’t continue the conversation if it’s not a good time

A debt collector’s priority is to get you to pay up as soon as possible, and because of this, they’re good at inspiring a sense of urgency when they email you or message you, But there’s absolutely no need to reply out of panic. Take the time you need to work out who they are, where the debt could be coming from, and get free advice from a debt charity. If they call you after messaging or emailing you, you can say: “Now is not a good time. Please call back tomorrow at 5pm”, and use this time to gather any information you might need.

Check if you actually owe the debt

There are several situations where you might not actually have to pay the debt. Debt collectors might be contacting you because you’re living at the same address that the debtor used to live at, or you simply have a similar way. It goes without saying that you don’t have to pay a debt which you don’t owe! Simply contact the debt collection company and explain that they have the wrong person.

Sometimes, even if you owe the debt, it might be too old to be enforceable, or the debt collector may not be able to provide enough documentation to prove that you owe it. In some of these cases, you may not have to pay.

In the UK, if you took out credit under the Consumer Credit Act, and the debt collector chasing you can’t produce the original credit agreement, they can’t take you to court to get it back. Similarly in the US, if the debt collector can’t provide documentation regarding the debt, they are much less likely to win a lawsuit against you. In fact, if your debt collection agency fails to provide verification of the debt, they’re violating federal policies. If a debt collector doesn’t verify the debt, you can counter-sue, and get up to $1,000 per lawsuit, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.

In the UK and Australia, if your debt is older than six years (three years in Australia’s Northern Territory), you may not have to pay it. In the US, if your debt is past the statute of limitations, it isn’t enforceable. The statue of limitations on debt in the US depends on your state, but is usually from 3-15 years.

Don’t admit to you owe a debt, or pay any money before you’re sure you owe it

Don’t say anything to a debt collector via email, messages or any other form of contact that admits you owe the debt. Request a copy of the original credit contract, as prove that you owe the debt. As it is a legal requirement for a debt collector to provide this, it gives you time to get free debt advice, and work out a plan for repaying your debt in a way that best suits your needs and life. There’s no need for you to say anything much via text or email, just state that you want a copy of the original credit agreement, and don’t do anything else until you receive it.

There are some situations where you will agree to pay a debt collector. However, this should only be through a repayment plan that is affordable to you, and allows you to keep up with essential living expenses. If you are really struggling with debt that is impossible to repay, you could qualify for debt relief solutions like a Debt Relief order (DRO) or Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) in the UK, credit counselling in the US, or a Debt Agreement or Personal Insolvency Agreement in Australia, that will help you manage your debts, and even get some of them written off. Bankruptcy is also a way to clear your debts in the US, UK and Australia, but it seriously impacts your life and finances, so make sure you seek debt advice first.

Get support from a debt charity

Before you make any decisions about your debt, including whether you need an insolvency agreement, make sure you seek free debt advice with a charity. Stay away from any companies that offer to ‘manage’ your debt for a fee (unless are part of official, government-supported insolvency solutions), as you may be financially better off with a free debt management plan from a charity that is committed to releasing people from the misery of debt.

In Australia, contact the National Debt Helpline for free debt advice. In the UK, charities like StepChange, Christians Against Poverty and National Debtline offer fantastic, free debt services. In the USA, you can find free or low-cost credit counselling options at:

  • credit unions
  • religious organisations
  • nonprofit agencies

But make sure these services are accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA)

Adam Hansen