Debt Collectors Can Swear – It’s Official!

17th January 2017

Have you, like me, sat through courses on telephone collections? How many times has the course leader emphasised that we must have empathy with the customer.  After all if you make “friends” with the customer you’ll be able to establish a rapport and gather information the net effect of which will improve recovery rates.  All techniques we’ve been taught – open questions, closed questions, how you open the call and finally closure.  Add in a bit of “treating the customers fairly” into the mix and we have the recipe for effective pre-sue collections.

However, some debtors may cause anguish with some of the less patient and less tolerant collectors amongst us.  But never lose your cool with the customer.  To do so will be a capital offence…or will it?

It has been reported in the London Times (February 2017) that a company employee exercising a credit control function swore at a debtor – the result of which brought an unwanted prosecution.

Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins was astonished that a defendant came before him charged over calling someone a “pussy”.  “That’s an offence is it?” the judge asked prosecutors at Worcester Crown Court on hearing that Aga Cazchowski, 31, had been charged for making the remark on a voicemail.  “Good heavens” the Judge said.  “It’s fairly standard behaviour in life.  I’m concerned criminal law is properly used, not to stop people swearing at each other.  To call someone a pussy is impolite.  It’s not an offence.  It’s unpleasant but not a criminal act.  If that’s the case, there’s an awful lot of criminals about.”

The Court heard that Ms Cazchowski had telephoned Karl Smalley, who owed her boss an outstanding debt and left a message using the slur.  Mr Smally and his wife Cheryl complained to the police and the case was taken to crown court where a full day’s trial costs taxpayers £3,000.  Ms Cazchowski, of Whipton, Exeter, admitted sending a malicious communication which was “grossly offensive” between December 1 and December 7, 2015.  However the Judge lambasted the prosecutors and gave her a two year conditional discharge.

So there you have it.  It’s not a criminal offence to swear at a debtor.  For the sake of clarity may I put on record that it’s never permissible to swear or otherwise “lose your head” when speaking to a customer.  At the least it will be a breach of the FCA’s guidelines detailed in CONC and could also be seen to be harassing the customer, which itself is a criminal offence.  However, an amusing case nonetheless.

Stephen Cowan, Director at Yuill + Kyle