Edmonton woman recounts ‘horrific ordeal’ at hands of debt collection firm

Sharron Spice says charges were repeatedly added to her parking ticket debt after CDER failed to set up a payment plan, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Sharron Pillay
Sharron Spice

An Edmonton woman says she suffered a “horrific ordeal” at the hands of a debt collection agency after two parking tickets left her owing more than £1,000.

Sharron Spice says charges were repeatedly added to her debt after CDER failed to set up a payment plan – even though she told the firm she was vulnerable and could not afford to pay the full amount in one go.

She accused the company of harassing her by repeatedly sending text messages and visiting her home to demand payment.

And Sharron was shocked to find the car – which she uses to take her sister, who has long Covid, to hospital appointments – had been towed away and impounded.

She said: “It has been a horrific ordeal, especially for a single woman on her own. If I had a male partner, I think I would have been treated a bit differently.”

When Sharron’s debts for two parking tickets, including one issued by Enfield Council, were referred to CDER, she said she initially owed £514.

Unable to pay the full amount in one go, she tried to engage with the company about setting up a payment plan “from the very get-go”, saying she could afford to pay £20 per month.

CDER asked her for bank statements and documents to confirm her “current financial position”. Sharron said she did not want to hand over that information but told the firm she was in a low-income job – she works for the council as a youth outreach worker – and already had outstanding debts, at one point working on a zero-hours contract.

She said she explained she had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the company “wanted a certificate” to prove it.

Despite her efforts, Sharron said CDER did not set up a payment plan and often failed to respond to her emails. Instead, it kept adding charges for letters and visits, so her debt grew to £753 and then £926.

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Sharron said: “They have targets to reach and [are] part commission-based. It’s in their interest to harass people and do extortionate fees.”

On 7th August, she said her car was clamped while she was at work, and by the evening it had been towed away to a car park in Tottenham. She said she was now told she was owed more than £1,000.

“I can’t explain to you the stress of not knowing where my vehicle has gone,” she said. “I didn’t know for three days. I was tweeting, ‘can you tell me where my car is, please?’”

As well as using the car for work, she uses it to take her sister to hospital appointments. “The car is not just for me – it is for my sister and my family,” she said. “It is of great importance.

“[My sister] has long Covid. She can’t run or walk, has lost some of her eyesight, she can’t breathe properly.

“The car is worth £300 – all this effort for £300!”

Sharron said it was only when The Guardian newspaper became involved that the company changed its approach. Now, her debt has been reduced to around £500. She also got her car back after borrowing money from a friend, although it was at the pound for six days.

Sharron said the experience was “traumatic” and had caused “stress and anxiety” that had worsened her PTSD and anorexia. She said she had been doing research, and if someone is vulnerable CDER is supposed to “go round the houses to help that person”.

CDER and Enfield Council have not responded to requests for comment.

Update (5th September):

An Enfield Council spokesperson said Sharron’s debt was referred to CDER as part of its “normal procedure” after previously sending her reminder notices. They added that the council does not accept the payment of penalty charge notices in instalments but can extend the time available for people to repay the outstanding balance if asked to do so.

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