Skeleton in your house's past

Posted by Andrew Penny in Dealing with Debt on 1 June 2012 - Andrew is responsible for Quality Assurance at checkmyfile

Unless you live in a newly built property, your home will have a history of previous occupants. Not all of them may have been good occupants as I have found out.

Having recently moved into a rented house, I have been receiving post for the previous occupant, some of which looks like it has come from debt collection agencies and other companies chasing for overdue payments. It seems clear from the sheer volume of these letters that the previous occupant had some money problems and did not resolve them before moving out.

I did not know the previous occupant and they did not leave a forwarding address. So I have been sending the post, unopened, back to the sender saying they are no longer living at that address.

Yesterday, my neighbour told me that she received a phone call asking her to call on my address and pass on a message for “the occupant” to “call a phone number, quoting a reference number, to solve an urgent matter”. My neighbour asked the caller what it was about but they said that they had to speak to the occupant directly. When my neighbour asked who was calling, she got a mumbled reply, which she could not understand.

When I Googled the phone number, it related to a debt collection agency. Calling neighbours to pass messages on to the occupant is a long established, if frowned upon method of trying to trace a ‘goneaway’.

It is a nefarious way not only for debt collection agencies to get you to contact them, but also enables the debt collector to have an instant confirmation during the call that the person still is, or is not, living at the address.

If you do have a home with a less than perfect past, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Firstly, “return to sender” any post for the previous occupants. It is unlawful to open post that is not addressed to you. This will stop some companies, but some might persist as the real debtor might just be returning the post to buy time to avoid paying debts.

Secondly, if you know the name of the debt collection agency, you can write them a letter or ring them and tell them that you are the new tenant and ask them to stop sending letters to your address. This should stop the majority of the letters and phone calls.

Thirdly, contact your landlord. Ask the landlord to write to the Debt Collection Agency telling them then you are a new tenant.

Finally, keep a copy of your tenancy agreement and/or council tax bill at hand so you can quickly prove you are the tenant should you get an unsolicited visit from a debt collection agency or from a bailiff. Remember that most bailiffs do not have the right to enter your home, unless they are reasonably certain that you are the debtor, that they are recovering a tax debt and that they also have a court order.

Andrew Penny leads our Software Quality Assurance. He has a degree in Computer Science from the University of Lancaster

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