In my book “Back to the Black”, I talk about the psychological effects of being in debt. In fact Chapter 2 is entitled “Mind Over Matter.”

I was pleased to see that this important issue was covered in a recent article by Simon Read in “The Independent” (17 March 2012). I’ll take the liberty of paraphrasing:


Being in debt is a depressing experience.

“A trouble shared is a trouble halved”; but the annual report of Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) shows 25% of those in debt don’t share their troubles with friends or family.

It’s understandable that people don’t want to discuss their debt problems. They’re embarrassed that they might be judged.

Admit the problem; don’t delay

However, admitting you’re in financial trouble is the first step towards solving the problem.

CCCS also revealed that 45 per cent of people delayed seeking advice for more than a year after they started to worry they had a debt problem. Many of them had probably carried the worry alone.


Many tragic suicides are caused by the worry of debt (and for every suicide there are ten attempted suicides). If those people had been able to talk about their problems, who knows what kind of future they may have had?

Talk to someone

Don’t just worry about debt. Instead look for a way to deal with it. There are many people and organisations that can help.

Help is at hand

CCCS (and the other debt advice charities: see below) are on hand to help.

All of them can help those in debt find ways to put their finances back on track.

Friends and family

Just talking to friends and family could be a good first step on the way to coping with the deep anxiety that money worries cause.


I had intended to add some thoughts of my own to this; but I think that the article says what needs to be said. I’ve just added information about organisations that can help; see below.






Citizens Advice (“The CAB”)

 Free advice provider; registered charity. Funders include central and local government, charitable trusts, companies and individuals.

Face-to-face interviews and telephone advice available at local Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs). Find your nearest bureau in the phone directory, or search at

E-mail advice available at some CABs

Advice line: 0844 499 4718

Online help also available:

CCCS (Consumer Credit Counselling Service)

Free advice provider; registered charity. Supported almost entirely by the credit industry.

Telephone counselling 0800 138 1111

Online help

National Debtline

 Free advice provider; registered charity. Part of the Money Advice Trust, (see below) funded by a mix of private sector donations and Government grants.

Phone advice and free factsheet orders: 0808 808 4000

Credit Action

Money education charity, in partnership with CCCS (see above). Free online advice provider, plus the Spendometer (see Chapter 8), Money Manuals and other resources:

Their “Money Advice Map” signposts to local debt advice centres:






AdviceUK (to find a local money advice centre)

020 7407 4070


Debtors Anonymous (worldwide community with telephone & online meetings)

… and to find contact details for local meetings inUK:


Mind (charity & helpline that helps with mental health problems)

0845 7660 163


Samaritans (confidential emotional support)

0845 790 9090


Saneline (support for mental illness)

0845 767 8000


Shelter (free housing advice helpline)

0808 800 4444


For the “Independent” article in full: LINK


For info about my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” (paperback and eBook): LINK



An interesting article by Jenny Little (“Moneywise”, Nov 2010) reminds me of a problem that can cause great misery for personal debtors. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has a ruling that prohibits harassment of debtors. Moreover the OFT clarifies what constitutes harassment by publishing guidelines; however, many lenders ignore them.

According to the article, in some cases lenders have even claimed to be unaware of the guidelines, though it’s the OFT that issues those same lenders with their consumer credit licences.

To see the article, go to:

Little says that “growing numbers of people struggling with credit card payments complain of creditors bullying them with menacing letters, doorstep visits and threats of court action or repossession.

“In public, credit card and debt collection firms pay lip service to official guidelines protecting consumers, but staff are given financial incentives to recover debt, provoking the sort of harassment that makes millions of debtors’ lives a misery.”

Official guidelines

OFT guidelines require lenders to negotiate with third parties, e.g. debt management companies, and say that debt collectors must give advance notice of visits. Debtors can also request not to be contacted at work.

Debt collection firms pretending to be bailiffs, or falsely threatening criminal proceedings, also risk being fined or having their credit licence revoked.

The guidelines in full:

Physical/psychological harassment: putting pressure on debtors or third parties is considered to be oppressive. Examples of unfair practices are as follows:

• contacting debtors at unreasonable times and at unreasonable intervals
• pressurising debtors to sell property, to raise funds by further borrowing or to extend their borrowing
• using more than one debt collection business at the same time resulting in repetitive and/or frequent contact by different parties
• not ensuring that an adequate history of the debt is passed on as appropriate resulting in repetitive and/or frequent contact by different parties
• not informing the debtor when their case has been passed on to a different debt collector
• pressurising debtors to pay in full, in unreasonably large instalments, or to increase payments when they are unable to do so
• making threatening statements or gestures or taking actions which suggest harm to debtors
• ignoring and/or disregarding claims that debts have been settled or are disputed and continuing to make unjustified demands for payment
• disclosing or threatening to disclose debt details to third parties unless legally entitled to do so
• acting in a way likely to be publicly embarrassing to the debtor either deliberately or through lack of care, for example, by not putting correspondence in a sealed envelope and putting it through a letterbox, thereby running the risk that it could be read by third parties.

Source: Office of Fair Trading, “Debt collection guidance: final guidance on unfair business practices.”

Lenders ignoring guidelines

But it seems the guidelines carry little weight with the lenders, according to Little. Heather Keates, chief executive of Community Money Advice, says: “Card firms are jittery and increasing interest rates. Creditors now go in hard from the outset.”

Citizens Advice (CAB) gives the example of one client’s recent experience. A 42-year-old single mother, she was struggling to keep up with a £7,000 credit card debt on her £589 take-home pay. She made the minimum payments but, when she defaulted, her bank began to phone her up to six times a day, even at work.
When the CAB intervened, the bank’s representative claimed to know nothing of the OFT guidelines and blamed the repeated calls on an automated system.

Automated dialling systems

Little has found that the use of automated dialling systems is commonplace and can result in customers receiving multiple calls every day. Some people resort to buying an extra pay-as-you-go mobile just to avoid harassment.

Alex MacDermott of Citizens Advice said: “It’s always better to talk to the card provider; otherwise your number will stay in the automated dialler, which will keep ringing. But the tone of some calls can be very threatening.”

Mention of telephone harassment and automated dialling reminds me of my own experience when I was in debt. That’s why I say: “try to avoid talking to creditors by phone. Don’t ignore them; respond to the messages … but in writing. Let all your incoming calls go to voicemail, if you are single-minded enough to do so.”

While some providers employ in-house debt collection, others ‘sell on’ debt to a third party. The Consumer Credit Act requires that they first issue a default notice to customers who have skipped payments to inform them which company has taken on the debt but in my experience this rarely happens.

The OFT has criticised debt collection agencies for “making frequent phone calls, threatening court action and not describing the process correctly”, and has also concluded that many default charges are unlawful. It says that £12 is the maximum that anyone should be penalised for missing a payment.

What to do

As I say again and again in my book: get help, especially if you are being harassed. Apart from the three major national debt advice charities Citizens Advice (CAB), Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) and National Debtline, there are also Community Money Advice and Debtors Anonymous, as well as Consumer Action Group, which is an online support network. All of these are easily located online. There are also local advice centres, too numerous to mention.


“Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is now available to sample or buy, as a multi-format e-book, at: