How A Company Can Commit Harassment

12th November 2018

How A Company Can Commit Harassment

​The Protection From Harassment Act stops conduct which causes alarm or distress. Harassment is a criminal offence and someone who commits can also attract a civil liability. The Act is usually used against problem neighbours and stalkers, but some actions by a limited company can also amount to harassment. The Act defines ‘harassment’ as “a course of conduct… which amounts to harassment of another”.

In one recent case a utility company was found liable to a (former) customer for its badgering phone calls and messages about a supposedly unpaid bill. Every time the customer explained that his account had been paid up and closed many years before, the company promised to change its records and not to pursue him anymore. But a few months later the calls started again. Eventually the frustrated ex-customer brought court proceedings, and the judge found in his favour. The company was held liable under the Act and had to pay damages.

The first well known case of a company being found guilty of harassment was Ferguson v British Gas. British Gas had sent Ms Ferguson numerous letters saying she owed them money, which was not the case. The letters also threatened to cut the gas supply off, start legal proceedings against her and report her to credit agencies. Eventually she issued court proceedings alleging harassment.

The court found for Ms Ferguson. British Gas’s argument that she knew the letters were unfounded and so should not have been concerned was dismissed. Likewise, it did not matter that the letters sent were generated by a computer, not a human.

This was followed by Kosar v Halifax, in which the Defendant bank was guilty of harassment under the Act. The court confirmed that a company can be found guilty of harassment.

Notes

Ferguson v British Gas [2009] EWCA Civ 46: judgment.
Kosar v Halifax [2011] EWHC 1050: judgment.

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