After one has ignored the parking ticket (Notice to Driver) and the subsequent letters (Notice to Keeper), letters from debt collectors usually start to arrive. To most people this is quite a worry since they start to imagine big shaven-headed blokes knocking on the door to take away their TV or car. This is the idea, and that is why they do it. For a parking company, this is a tactic to induce payment.
Debt collectors have no power. They have no more right to take your TV than your milkman! Debt collectors fall into two main categories, 1) a subsidiary of the alleged creditor (the parking company), or 2) another company that has purchased the alleged debt from the alleged creditor. All these companies can do is ask you to repay the debt. They may make their letters look scary, with red writing, bold lettering, or a scales of justice on the header, but that is all it is. To be clear, a debt collector:
- Cannot take away your property
- Must tell you when they plan to visit
- Can only phone, write or visit to discuss paying the alleged debt
- Cannot contact you repeatedly or during unsociable hours
So, what’s a bailiff then? A bailiff is appointed to recover a debt awarded in a county court, and they do have greater powers to recover goods from your home. However, as we discuss in the enforcement section, a bailiff can only be appointed once a parking company has taken you to court, proven the debt, AND you have still failed to pay.
There are a number of debt collection companies involved in private parking, including Debt Recovery Plus, Equita, and Zenith Collections, and MIL. They run very slick operations, sending you scary-looking letters to chase the alleged debt. But don’t feel special, these letters are all pre-written template-based letters, designed to intimidate you into paying. If you have a look through the list of example letters, you will find other people have had exactly the same letter as you. All they’re trying to do is to maximise the number of people who pay. It’s in your gift to stop yourself from following the crowd.
But, there is a very simple way of getting rid of a debt collector.
If you don’t believe you owe them, then simply deny you owe the debt (see our example letter below). At that point, since debt collection is regulated, the debt collector must cease contacting you. If they continue, then that may be considered harassment which you can then report to Trading Standards or the Financial Ombudsman.
A debt denial letter must contain genuine reasons why you do not believe you owe anything. To determine what reasons they may be, have a look at the arguments listed on a POPLA guide and our post-Beavis guide.
If you receive a call from a debt collector, the recommended approach is to NOT speak to them. Just deny the debt and put the phone down on them. Do not engage in a conversation, and do not argue with them. The worst that could happen is that you compromise your case. If you have a letter or a call from a debt collector, check the guidance from the Office of Fair Trading and check they’re operating lawfully.