Ministers have been urged to tighten regulations around debt collectors following reports that intimidating visits by bailiffs are causing suicidal feelings among debtors.
Shocking new evidence published by mental health charity Mind has revealed that 96 per cent of people who have had visits from bailiffs suffered anxiety and 87 per cent suffered depression.
Half of all those surveyed by the charity even admitted they felt suicidal after bailiffs knocked on the door.
The survey also revealed that 80 per cent experienced threatening behaviour from bailiffs, 70 per cent were charged excessive fees on top of their debts and the majority did not complain because they did not know how to.
Mind is now urging the government to take action to protect vulnerable groups from aggressive bailiffs at a time when more people are finding it difficult to keep on top of bills during the economic downturn.
It said that urgent regulation policies needed to be put in place to keep bailiffs in check.
Mind's chief executive Paul Farmer said: "We are very concerned about the high numbers of people who have experienced abuse and threatening behaviour at the hands of bailiffs.
"We have heard cases of bailiffs forcing their way into homes, threatening people with prison and even intimidating people's children.
"Without regulation bailiffs are free to exaggerate their powers with no repercussions. Currently there are no binding rules for them to abide by."
The Labour government had previously committed to introducing bailiff rules in 2012 by the Security Industry Authority, which regulates bouncers and clampers.
But Mind has argued the body is not strong enough to stamp out bad practice.
It also pointed out that even leading bailiff companies have called for independent regulation of the industry to address bad practice.
Only by introducing "effective regulation with teeth" can bailiffs' bullying tactics that damage mental health be tackled, the charity said.
One of the most common reasons bailiffs are called is for council tax arrears.
But for one tenant Louise it was a bungle from her local council that left her owing council tax.
She said: "The bailiffs won't talk to you, they just shout. I have been harassed, bullied, threatened. Sometimes you just feel like giving up. You feel physically sick. It's so frightening."
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