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Norman Lamb teams up with Martin Lewis to demand end to threatening debt letters

PUBLISHED: 14:15 21 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:09 21 May 2019

Norman Lamb during the Westminster Hall debate. Photo: UK Parliament

Norman Lamb during the Westminster Hall debate. Photo: UK Parliament

UK Parliament

Receiving intimidating letters demanding money from those in debt has been likened to "someone standing in front of you with a knife" in a debate called by a Norfolk MP.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday in support of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute's Stop the Debt Threats campaign.

The institute's research found more than 100,000 people in debt attempt to take their own life in England every year and one factor was letters from creditors.

It is an issue MoneySavingExpert founder Mr Lewis, who is also founder and chairman of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI), previously said was "destroying lives".

Mr Lamb is a member of the charity's advisory board, alongside MP colleagues Johnny Mercer and Luciana Berger.

He said the letters those in debt receive are often written in intimidating and complex language, and can feature threats of court action right at the top. Receiving these letters from multiple lenders on a daily basis can leave people feeling threatened and unable to see a solution to their situation.

He gave the example of man named only as Paul, who lives with bipolar. Mr Lamb said: "When he's on a high he would go out on spending sprees, funded by loans and during periods of depression he would struggle to pay his bills and often spends money to help himself feel better."

He said: "Paul said being hounded by creditors left him feeling trapped and helpless, and he tragically made attempts on his own life."

Mr Lamb also read a statement in Paul's own words, which said: "The letters you get from creditors are horrendous , they were like someone standing in front of me with a knife. So I wanted to get rid of them, I would just put them straight in the bin or burn them."

The MMHPI campaign to make changes to the letters has been backed by Mind, the Samaritans, Citizens Advice and Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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Helen Undy, MMHPI chief executive, said: "The rules on debt collection letters were meant to ensure that people know their rights and where to get help, but they're having the opposite effect. Instead, the intimidating and threatening language of these letters can leave people hopeless and unsure where to turn."

Threatening bailiffs contributed to son's death

Mr Lamb also highlighted the death of 20-year-old Jerome Rogers.

Mr Rogers was a motorbike courier from south London, whose death has been the focus of the BBC drama Killed By My Debt. Mr Lamb said: "Jerome took his own life at the age of only 20 after receiving two £65 traffic fines that escalated to more than £1,000 of debt. His mother, Tracey, believes that the combination of the intimidating letters he received and the threatening bailiffs who came to his home were significant factors in his death. She also says that if the letters hadn't been so frightening, and if Jerome had been able to get the right support when he needed it, he would be here today."

He added that people with mental health problems were three times more likely to be in problem debt.

What is wrong with the letters?

More than 6,000 people previously signed a petition to make changes to the letters received by those in debt.

Mr Lamb said: "What's particularly galling is that lenders are in fact forced to send these threatening debt letters due to out-of-date legislation introduced nearly 50 years ago.

"The content of debt letters is dictated by rules in the Consumer Credit Act (1974), which compels lenders to use obscure and intimidating language.

"It also obliges them to include obsolete advice for people in debt to consult their solicitor, which overlooks the availability of free debt support from charities such as StepChange and Citizens Advice, and the fact that for many people, access to a solicitor is impossible."

- To sign the petition to change the letters, visit www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/debt-threats/

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