More than half (52 percent) have had to take out further loans, landing themselves in more debt to keep collectors at bay – with 46 percent left feeling anxious, and 12 percent trapped by the situation.
The research also found having such a negative experience as a customer has seen 21 percent make a formal complaint to the debt collection company, and 18 percent stop using that business.
More than one in ten (12 percent) have left bad reviews online, and 11 percent post complaints on social media.
Amon Ghaiumy, founder of ethical debt resolution technology company, Ophelos, which commissioned the research, said: “With more people than ever falling into problem debt, sometimes for the first time in their lives, businesses cannot afford to ignore the abhorrent behaviour employed by external debt collectors.
“Not only does this worsen the impact of debt on consumers, but in the current cost of living crisis, this unethical approach is what will leave a lasting impression on millions of people.
“The fact is that people are going to blame businesses and lenders for the huge impact that bad debt collectors have on their mental and financial health.
“It begs the question of businesses: how do you want to be remembered when we come out of the recession?
“The actions they take in today’s crisis will be remembered – and that means they simply cannot let this behaviour become the face of their business.”
The study also found that a quarter of those polled have spoken to friends and family about managing their debt, and 50 percent have ended up borrowing money off friends in order to pay off loans.
Another 41 percent have reverted to overdrafts, and four in ten have turned to family to help.
But a year ago, 40 percent of respondents didn’t expect to be in problem debt like they are now – unable to pay household bills, council tax, and energy bills.
And more than a third (36 percent) believe that, if nothing changes, they will still be in the same situation – if not worse – by this time next year.
It also emerged credit cards, energy bills, and rent are where most adults currently have outstanding debt.
But one in five (21 percent) have got no savings to cover costs for unforeseen expenses, while 18 percent said their salary doesn’t cover their outgoings.
And although more than half (52 percent) are hopeful they won’t go into further debt, they think energy bills (64 percent), water bills (60 percent), and food prices (47 percent) might make this difficult.
The research, conducted via OnePoll, also found the average person in debt has £5,492.50 outstanding, typically owed to four companies.
Amon Ghaiumy added: “It’s becoming more common than ever to be in debt, and it’s not because people are “choosing not to pay their bills” – it’s because they simply can’t.
“It’s outrageous that one in five people are having to go into debt to afford basic necessities like groceries and medication.
“More needs to be done to help those in this financial crisis. Businesses need to better help support their customers through this hugely difficult time, rather than letting their debt get worse or spiral out of control.
“Bombarding someone with threats won’t make the situation any better. With the right tools and an empathetic approach, resolving debt doesn’t have to be a scary situation if it is dealt with properly.
“And for individuals, it’s important to always seek support when in debt, even if you are unable to pay it off, and not suffer in silence – there is always advice or someone out there who can help.”