If you owe money to someone, they are your creditor and you are their debtor. They are entitled to ask you to pay your debts but they are not entitled to harass or intimidate you.
There are specific rules for debt collection in relation to agreements covered by the consumer credit legislation - namely the Consumer Credit Act 1995 and the European Communities (Consumer Credit Agreements) Regulations 2010.
In general, financial services providers must comply with the Central Bank's Consumer Protection Code 2012.
Private debt collectors
Instead of directly pursuing you for the debt, creditors sometimes sell the debt to a private collection agency. Such agencies are not subject to authorisation and supervision in their own right by the Central Bank.
However, if a financial services provider that is regulated by the Central Bank outsources its debt collection activities, any agent acting on its behalf must comply with the requirements of Irish financial services law. If it fails to do so, the Central Bank may impose penalties on the financial services provider.
If a regulated financial services provider plans to appoint a third party to engage with you about arrears that you owe, it must inform you of this in writing and explain the role of the third party.
Contact between lenders and consumers
Under the Consumer Protection Code 2012, a financial services provider that is regulated by the Central Bank cannot phone you in connection with your loan without your consent between 9 pm and 9 am, Monday to Saturday, or at any time on a Sunday or public holiday. They can only visit you in person if you have given your informed consent to the visit.
The lender is not permitted to call you or to visit you at your place of work unless you are also living there, or unless all reasonable efforts to contact you elsewhere have failed. Only the person involved in the loan can be contacted about it. This means that your lender cannot contact your employer or a member of your family about your loan.
If you do not engage with your creditor, they can initiate legal proceedings to recover the debt.
Harassment and intimidation
All debt collectors, including private individuals and debt collection agencies, are covered by Section 11 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. This provides that a person is guilty of an offence if he/she makes any demand for payment of a debt and if:
- The demands are so frequent as to be calculated to subject you or a member of your family to alarm, distress or humiliation, or
- The person falsely represents that criminal proceedings lie for non-payment of the debt, or
- The person falsely represents that he or she is authorised in some official capacity to enforce payment, or
- The person utters a document falsely represented to have an official character
If you are subjected to such behaviour by your creditor or by a debt collection agency, you should report the matter to the Garda Síochána. Anyone found guilty of offences under the Act is subject to large fines and up to 14 years in prison.