Dealing with Debt Collectors

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Bruce Hallsor, KC, Crease Harman LLP and David Madani, Swadden & Company in March 2020.

If you’re behind on debt payments, the law limits how a debt collector can contact you and others around you. Learn your rights and steps to take to protect them.

What you should know

Collectors versus agents (and why that matters)

First, a bit of terminology. A debt collector is someone who is attempting to collect a debt. The laws we explain here apply to any person or business that fits this description.

A collection agent, meanwhile, is someone whose business it is to collect debts for other parties. Someone who is owed money (a creditor) might decide to “sell” the debt to a collection agent.

So what, you wonder? Two reasons. One is collection agents are known for their aggressive tactics. (They make money only if they recover some of the debt.) Many of the laws explained here are to protect you from these tactics.

Second, collection agents must be licensed by Consumer Protection BC. If a collection agent is treating you badly, Consumer Protection BC has more scope to penalize them.

A debt collector can’t harass you

Now, for a few rules that apply to any debt collector, including collection agents.

First, they can’t communicate with you in a way that amounts to harassment.

Harassment can include:

  • using threatening, intimidating, or profane language
  • exerting excessive or unreasonable pressure
  • publishing or threatening to publish your failure to pay

For example, a debt collector can’t phone your home every hour demanding payment. This would be exerting excessive or unreasonable pressure.

This rule also covers members of your family, household, a relative, neighbour, friend, or your employer.

As well, a debt collector can’t break criminal laws. For example, they can’t:

  • threaten to harm you or your property
  • abuse their authority to get money from you
  • convey false information with the intent to alarm you

They’re also not allowed to be deceptive. For example, a debt collector can’t send you letters that look like they come from the government when they don’t.

Additional restrictions the law puts on debt collectors

A debt collector must send you written notice of the debt before calling you. (One exception: they can call you before sending notice if they’re only trying to find out your home address or email.)

They must wait five days after sending notice before calling.

As well, debt collectors are only allowed to contact you at certain times of day. They mustn’t contact you by phone or in person:

  • from Monday to Saturday before 7 am or after 9 pm
  • on a Sunday before 1 pm or after 5 pm
  • on a statutory holiday at any time

A debt collector can only contact you at work if:

  • They’re trying to find out your home address, phone number, or email (if they don’t have that information already).
  • You permit them to.
  • They tried to reach you at home, by phone, or by email, but failed to connect. If that’s the case, they’re still limited to one verbal attempt to contact you at work.

There are also strict limits on when a debt collector can contact your friends and family. A collector can only contact them to request your home address, phone number, or email.

Two exceptions to this rule are where:

  • the person being contacted has guaranteed the debt, and is being contacted about the guarantee
  • you’ve given permission to the collector to contact the person about the debt

You can ask the collector to only communicate with you in writing. Or, you can request the collector communicate directly with your lawyer.

Consumer Protection BC has forms you can fill out and give to the collector for these requests. See the Consumer Protection BC website.

If you dispute the debt

You can dispute a debt. You might do this where the debt has already been paid, it’s someone else’s debt, or the debt collector is asking for more than you owe.

When you dispute a debt, you’re saying you would like the creditor (the party who is owed money) to take the matter to court. Once you do that, the debt collector must stop communicating with you.

To dispute a debt, you need to contact the creditor in writing. Consumer Protection BC provides a form you can use. Visit their website.

Meanwhile, if you think the debt collector has the wrong person, you should tell them in writing. The Consumer Protection BC website has a form you can use for this, too. It's on their website.

Work out the problem

There are steps you can take to work out a problem with a debt collector.

Step 1. Keep a record of all communications

If you run into problems with a debt collector, start with creating a paper trail. Keep records of all your correspondence. This includes anything they say to you — or anyone else — about the debt you owe.

Record the date, time, and content of any phone calls or messages you receive.

Step 2. Research the debt collector

Confirm the identity of the debt collector. Use caller ID or tracing if you have to.

If it’s a collection agent, they must be licensed by Consumer Protection BC. You can use the licence search on their website to find out if the agent is properly licensed. Visit the Consumer Protection BC website.

Step 3. Contact the debt collector

First, a caution: If you’re being asked to pay a debt and you think the limitation period may have expired, seek legal advice before contacting the debt collector. If you contact the collector, you may restart the limitation period. (There are options for free or low-cost legal advice.)

Tell the debt collector you want to see written notice of the debt, if you haven’t gotten it already. (They’re legally required to wait five days after giving you written notice before they call you.)

Let the collector know you’re aware of the debts and want the calls to stop. Tell them you’ll make a complaint to Consumer Protection BC if the calls continue. You can also say you’ll take legal action if there is any further harassment.

You can request the collector only contact you in writing or through your lawyer. They’re legally obliged to cooperate.

Also, consider sending a written letter outlining your proposal for paying back the debt. The collector may agree to change the terms to make it easier for you.

Step 4. Complain to Consumer Protection BC

If the harassment continues, you can make a complaint to Consumer Protection BC. They oversee debt collectors and license collection agents in the province.

You can contact them by phone or make a complaint. See the Consumer Protection BC website.

Go deeper

Want to go further? We offer more detailed guidance on your rights and how to deal with debt collectors. See our in-depth coverage of this topic.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Consider reaching out to this agency for help in dealing with debt collectors.

Consumer Protection BC
They can help if you have a complaint about a debt collector.
Call 1-888-564-9963
Visit website

Legal advice

Getting legal advice can help you clarify how to proceed.

Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a complimentary 15-minute consult to see if you want to hire them.
Call 1-800-663-1919
Visit website
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
Volunteer lawyers provide 30 minutes of free legal advice to people with low or modest income.
Call 1-877-762-6664
Visit website
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website
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