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Being chased for debts not in my name

Receiving letters, texts or phone calls addressed to someone else or for a debt someone else is liable for can be frustrating. This is especially true if the contact seems quite threatening in tone.

It’s not always obvious how you’re best dealing with this kind of contact from creditors. You may also be worried that the debt could affect you in some way. The good news is that most creditors are very understanding and will stop contacting you once it's established you're not the person they're looking for. If they don't, there are still steps you can take to prevent further unwanted contact.

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How you can deal with debts not in your name

There are a few different scenarios to consider when you’re being chased for someone else’s debt. How you deal with this unwanted contact may vary, depending on which scenario applies to you. 

I’m getting letters addressed to a previous resident of my home

When a person moves home they should update their creditors with their new address. This doesn’t always happen, or there may be a delay while their creditors update their records. The important thing is that you are NOT liable for debts owed by someone who lived in your house before you.

In this scenario, simply write ‘not at this address’ on the envelope and put it back in the post box. This doesn’t require a stamp and the Post Office should return the letter to the sender. This might be enough to stop further contact. If you do continue to receive letters, you can then send a written complaint to the company.

There’s a chance that if this debt is passed on to a collection agency that you may start receiving letters again. If this happens, just repeat the process and the letters should hopefully stop.

If you receive letters that look like they’re from a bailiff or County Court don't ignore them. Call the court or bailiff and let them know the previous occupant no longer lives at the address.

You’re not legally obliged to provide proof that you’re the current resident of the property. However, you can offer to send a photocopy of your council tax bill to the court or bailiff to prove that the person they’re looking for is no longer a resident. Doing this should prevent further contact.

A bailiff or debt collector has visited or plans to visit my home over someone else’s debt

Should a bailiff (or a sheriff officer if you live in Scotland) visit the property to take control of goods for someone else’s debt, we recommend that you do not let them in. Instead, you can either communicate with them via your letterbox or ask them to go to the end of your driveway where you can talk at a safe distance from your front door. 

Showing the bailiff your council tax bill to prove your identity is usually enough to make them leave. They cannot legally take goods that the person they’re pursuing doesn’t own. If they’re within viewing distance of a window, you can put your council tax bill against the windowpane for them to see.

If a debt collection agent visits, please keep in mind that they are not bailiffs and don’t have any right to enter your house and seize goods. Just like with a bailiff, you can tell the agent via your letterbox that the person they’re pursuing doesn’t live here. Visits from debt collection agents tend to be more implied rather than something a collection agency resorts to, as sending agents to a property costs more to the agency.

I’m getting phonecalls or text messages from a creditor looking for someone else

If someone calls your number looking for payment on someone else’s debt, make them aware of this and ask them to cease contact by telephone immediately. If they persist in contacting you, then you can make a complaint in writing. Many mobile phones have a number blocking feature that can help.

Receiving text messages from a creditor pursuing a debt is quite rare. We recommend that you don’t respond to these kinds of text messages, and block the number.

I’m getting letters addressed to a family member or friend

Sharing an address with someone does not make you liable for their debts. You can only be liable for debts which are in your name, or in joint names with you and someone else.

Many people with no fixed abode may use a family member or friend’s postal address to receive mail. Again, having a person using your address for post doesn’t make you liable for their debt. You should still make the person aware of the post that you’re receiving and urge them to get debt advice.

If the person being pursued for the debt is vulnerable or otherwise unable to deal with it, you may be able to deal with their debts on their behalf. This is called power of attorney, and it does not make you liable for that person's debt.

I’m getting letters for a guarantor loan I signed for someone else

When you apply for a guarantor loan on behalf of someone else you’re agreeing to make any payments towards that debt should the person fall behind or be unable to pay. You may have started receiving the letters because that person is behind on payments, and you are now expected to cover the amounts they’ve missed.

Speak to the person who you took the loan out for and make them aware that you’re now being asked to make payment. If they’re unable to make payment, you’ll  need to deal with this debt as if you took it out for yourself. It’s important that you don’t ignore letters about a guarantor loan you’ve taken out.

I’m getting letters for a joint debt I have nothing to do with

Quite often a person may agree to a joint loan with a partner but have very little to do with that debt, other than have their name on the credit agreement. Should your partner or ex-partner reduce or stop payment on this debt the creditor is allowed to pursue you for payment because you’re ‘joint and severally’ liable.

This means that the creditor can pursue either of you for the full amount. Both of your credit ratings will also be affected by any reduced payment on a joint debt, and if one person goes bankrupt, the other becomes solely liable for any remaining balance.

I’m getting letters for a deceased person who still has debts outstanding

When a person dies, their debts will be settled from their estate (the money and assets they left behind). If their estate is not enough to clear the debts, the remainder will usually be written off. If you’re administering the person’s estate, you are NOT liable for their debts. The only exception is if any of the debts were in joint names with you and the deceased person. Sending a copy of the person’s death certificate to the creditor may be enough to end further contact. 

I have other debts in my name - can you help?

If you have other debts that you need help with, please get in touch with us. We can give you the free and confidential debt advice you may need. Our online advice tool Debt Remedy can help you put together a personal action plan in around 20 minutes. If you prefer, you can speak to one of our advisors over the telephone

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Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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