If you are worried because a creditor is putting you under too much pressure, you should know there are rules about how and when they may contact you.
You are protected under the Code of Conduct on Mortgage arrears
You are protected under codes of practice for utilities
Utilities are things like electricity, gas, water and telephone or broadband services.
Electricity, gas and water regulation and consumer protection
The Commission on Energy Regulation (CRU) requires energy suppliers to deal with customers as set out in their handbook. This handbook requires each energy supplier to produce a number of Codes of Practice across different areas. These include issues such as marketing, billing, disconnections, complaint handling and vulnerable customers.
The handbooks also require suppliers to produce a customer charter. Customer charters and codes of practice can be found on each supplier’s website. The Electricity Association of Ireland has an agreed Energy Engage Code between several suppliers with the aim of reducing disconnections of customers in arrears on their electricity or gas bills to an absolute minimum.
The CRU also requires Irish Water to produce a number of Codes of Practice across different areas. These include issues such as customer communication, metering, billing, network operations, complaint handling and vulnerable customers.
The CRU will handle complaints that have not been resolved successfully through the utility supplier’s complaints process.
Telephone, broadband and postal regulation and consumer protection
The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is the statutory body responsible for the regulation of home phone, mobile phone, internet and postal services.
Each service provider must have a code of practice for handling complaints which is available on their website. ComReg can also help with unresolved complaints.
You are protected under The Consumer Protection Code for financial services
The Consumer Protection Code is a set of rules that certain financial services firms must follow when they:
- Provide financial products and services to you
- Give you financial information and advice
- Advertise financial products or services
- Handle your complaints.
For personal loans and credit cards which are regulated by The Consumer Protection Code, the following rules about arrears apply.
The level of contact from the creditor or anyone acting for them, must be reasonable and not excessive (See section 8.13 of the code).
Number of times a creditor can contact you is limited
The creditor or anyone acting for them, may only contact you up to 3 times about arrears in any calendar month – unless you ask them to. The 3 contacts include any attempted but unsuccessful contact. They do not include contacts you have asked for, or contacts required by the code or law.
Phone contact only allowed during office hours
Creditors may phone you only between 9.00 a.m. and 9.00 p.m. Monday to Saturday (excluding bank holidays and public holidays), unless otherwise agreed with you.
For more information, contact the Central Bank Public Helpline on 1890 777 777. The line is open Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 18:00.
Learn more about how different loans are regulated and what consumer protections you have.
You are protected from harassment by law
All debt collectors, including private individuals and debt collection agencies, must stick to the law detailed in sections 10 and 11 of the non –fatal offences against the person act 1997. It makes it an offence to harass anyone in any way including by phone.
It also says that unless they have a reasonable excuse, no one may harass you by persistently following, pestering or making contact with you.
It is against the law for the creditor to make demands so often they aim to cause you or a member of your family alarm, distress or humiliation.
Seek legal advice or report the matter to the Gardaí if the creditor falsely claims:
- To be able to officially enforce payment
- A document is official
- They have started criminal proceedings for non-payment of the debt
Can I be punished for not paying my debt?
Can I be sent to prison for not paying a debt?
This is a common question in MABS. When it comes to consumer debt like your loan or your mortgage, no, you cannot be sent to prison for not paying consumer debt.
The creditor uses the court procedures available to secure payment of the debt. This is not supposed to be a punishment for being unable to pay.
While you cannot be sent to prison if you can’t or do not pay a consumer debt, it is important that you respond to all court papers. This shows the court you are unable, not unwilling to pay your debt.
However, you can be imprisoned for breaking a court order
If you do not co-operate with the enforcement of a court order, it is possible at the end of a long process to be arrested and brought before the court to explain your circumstances.
Always respond to court papers and seek advice where necessary to avoid this.
Community service and fines
It is possible that if you fail to pay a fine, you can be brought back to court.
Instead of a fine, the judge may order you to do community service. Or the judge may make a court order to collect the money for the fine from you directly. These court orders include:
- Attachment order (Fine is taken directly from income you have such as your wages or social welfare and paid to the court).
- Recovery order (Where the judge decides that you do have the means to pay the fine or you have assets that can be seized and sold to pay the fine and the related expenses.
Prison is rare and a last resort
If none of these options is appropriate, or if you do not comply with a Community Service Order, you may be sent to prison. But since 2014, it is possible to pay fines by instalments, so it is important to address any court fines urgently.
Will I have a criminal record if my creditor gets a court order for a consumer debt?
No. There is a difference between civil court proceedings and criminal proceedings. A court order obtained following court procedures for consumer debt is a civil not a criminal matter.
MABS offers free advice and support
For free and confidential advice and non-judgmental support, you can contact MABS.