I wrote this 6 months ago. Not sure why I didn’t publish it then. Some references may be dated (the ocean off the south coast is no longer brown!) however the article remains relevant. Enjoy!
I’ve written this because it is not only the nation that is in severe fiscal straits. Some individuals – honest hardworking Bajans are drowning in debt. I know – and I’m sure we all know – people who have lost their businesses because of the fiscal mismanagement of the last administration. Some who have also lost homes. Others who have lost their vehicles because they could either pay the car insurance or repair the pot-hole-damaged car but not both. Or who lost health insurance policies because they could either pay the premiums or pay the doctor, but not both.
And as if their situations weren’t bad enough, they were aggravated by the voracious attitudes of debt collectors who, though, just doing their jobs, were inordinately aggressive towards these ordinary citizens who had fallen harder than others upon hard times.
I trust this helps.
Hard times hit yuh!
Tings browner than the ocean off the south coast!
You’ve been working so hard to put food on the table and keep the lights on and the water running (Forget about the phone bill, you will rely on your mobile!) that you’ve fallen behind in your hire purchase/mortgage/car loan payments.
The situation has deteriorated to the point that the bailiff is now calling/knocking on your door/visiting your workplace/threatening repossession/talking about sending you to court.
And you don’t know what to do.
I will add here that if you are a criminal, this advice isn’t for you. You’re going to get caught. No matter what you read here.
Signing a contract, committing to a financial obligation, while knowing that you cannot or will not make the payments is immoral and illegal. You’re going to get caught.
You are part of the reason decent people are sometimes confronted by indecent behaviour from debt collectors. They mistake the decent folk for people like you and treat them with the same treatment you may need. You are going to get caught!
This article is not for you! Seriously, though! You are going to get caught!
This article is for honest people who have fallen into arrears with a creditor and need advice.
From my research, there’s no such thing as debtors’ rights in Barbados. Bailiffs, on the other hand, once licensed and registered to “levy any distress” on a debtor, have many powers. Unfortunately, the ways many of them wield them are, at best, unsavoury, at worst, abusive.
“Bailiffs are bullies,” according to one bailiff interviewed for this article. “It is the way they operate to get what they want. It is not right, but that is the way they operate. Not all, but most of them.” He added that he has learned in his 3+ decades in the business that aggression “serves no useful purpose at the end of the day”, although he is always prepared to defend himself from physical and verbal attacks.
If your financial affairs have fallen into arrears, while you’re legally in the wrong (you have, after all, reneged on your payment contract) you do not have to tolerate abuse at the hands of a debt collector. Here are a few things you should know:
- You can go to your creditor and explain your situation. Don’t call. Go meet face to face. Try to renegotiate the terms of your payment and ask to have the bailiff desist from his/her abusive behaviour. This tactic may not work as your creditor has no obligation to grant either of your requests. Bear in mind that it is your creditor that sent your account to the debt collector in the first place.
- Document the instances of the bailiff’s harassment and write a letter of complaint to your creditor. Include the number of visits or calls, the dates and times; the name of the person you spoke to and what was said to you each time. You may also include copies of correspondence sent to you and statements from neighbours, family members or workmates who witnessed the abuse. Most businesses take customer complaints seriously and will act on your letter.
- If a bailiff presents himself to you in person, ask him to present his licence. According to Barbadian law, it is illegal for someone to act as a bailiff without the appropriate authorisation. Bailiffs must hold a certificate, authorised by a magistrate, in order to collect debt. Note that the document will state the jurisdiction in which the collector’s powers extend so check to make sure he is operating within his jurisdiction. It is illegal for him to act outside of it.
- There are international standards by which bailiffs ought to operate, though few here in Barbados seem to know it. For example, in Britain, if you are disabled or seriously ill, over 65 or don’t speak English well, you might be considered vulnerable. You might also be considered vulnerable if you suffered recent stress such as sudden unemployment or death in the family.
In the UK, once you’ve informed the bailiff of your vulnerability, s/he must follow protocol which includes: never visiting your home if you’re the only person there; giving you extra time to make a payment offer to stop them visiting; never taking or threatening to take any health related items and ensuring that you are able to communicate with them – for example bringing a sign language interpreter or a translator when they visit.
- Whether you’re considered vulnerable or not, international debt collection standards (and in some countries, laws) dictate that bailiffs should never:
- contact you several times a day, or early in the morning or late at night
- pursue you on social media
- pressure you to pay all the money, or, if paying in instalments, to pay more than you can afford
- threaten you physically or verbally (having written this I must add that you should not be physically or verbally abusive. If you approach most people [bailiff or not] aggressively, you will get the same in return. Remember, bailiffs are human and Barbadian bailiffs face physical and verbal abuse daily. Multiple times daily. It’s become the norm for them. Some of them travel legally armed because of it.)
- try or threaten to embarrass you in public
- tell someone else about your debts or use a third party to relay messages
- imply that legal action can be taken when it can’t
- give the impression that legal action has been taken against you when it hasn’t.
Though these standards do not seem to have been formally adopted by Barbados, they constitute fair practice and consumers here can demand that merchants and service providers operate accordingly.
Of course, if you’re unable to pay the debt, and the matter ends up in court you can always “tell it to the judge”. Be sure to tell him/her also of the abuse you suffered at the hands of the Bailiff (See number 1 above). And feel free to quote this article! Especially number 5.
Also note that Section 6(3) of Barbados’s District Auctioneers Act (which describes the functions of bailiffs) speaks to “misconduct”:
Any person who holds a certificate and is proved to the satisfaction of a magistrate to have been guilty of any extortion or other misconduct in the discharge of his functions as a bailiff shall be liable to have his certificate summarily cancelled by the magistrate.
Abuse and harassment constitute misconduct.
Unfortunately, the ambit of Barbados’s Fair Trading Commission does not include fair practice as it relates to the collection of debt (as do FTCs in other countries), and, apparently, there is no watchdog or other type of agency to protect the rights of citizens against the bullying tactics of debt collectors, so individuals seem pretty much on their own.
Perhaps the new Mia Mottley-led administration will fill the gap with a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
These rebuilding times call for it!