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News & blogs: Blogs

Blog: ITV Tonight programme on problem debt: Debt collection agencies can help too

23 March 2017  
Claire Aynsley

Claire Aynsley is Head of Regulatory and Compliance Standards at the Credit Services Association. Since joining the organisation over 10 years ago, her dedication and passion for the industry have greatly enhanced the status of the Association, forging strong relationships with regulatory bodies and other industry stakeholders to ensure we are at the forefront of any regulatory and legislative changes.

Last week’s ITV Tonight programme ‘Buy Today, Pay Tomorrow’ looked at the more than two and a half million Britons in serious debt, only half of which are getting help. Consumer Action Group, StepChange and Payplan were mentioned as sources of support with the recognition that there is still a stigma attached to admitting being in debt and that many are simply ignoring the problem.

Debt collection agencies were mentioned in the programme but only in terms of the correspondence that they were sending, much of which was being ignored. Both we (the Credit Services Association) as the UK trade body for the debt collection sector, and our members signpost to help from debt charities like StepChange when it is needed, but most people don’t realise that debt collection agencies are there to help as well.

The consumer credit market is now so heavily regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and debt collection agencies have to meet such high standards through our Code of Practice, that there is no question about the fact that it is not in their interests not to do the right thing by the customer. It is part of their obligation and there’s a clear business case for focusing on positive customer outcomes. Part of that outcome might come in the form of additional support from a debt charity or consumer group, but support can also come from the debt collection agency itself.

The key advice given in the programme was not to ignore the problem and to seek help with both getting out of debt and budgeting more effectively to avoid future debt problems, but help can come in many forms and it is important to respond to debt collection agency’s correspondence, even if you think they have the wrong information, so that they can help solve the issue.

Whilst many are calling for more ‘breathing space’ for those that are struggling to make repayments, it’s also important to remember that the quicker financial difficulties are resolved and a plan is put in place, the less strain there is on the customer.

Debt collection professionals are now highly trained in helping customers resolve their debt issues in their best interests, and are required to have strong emotional intelligence and empathy skills. Where they can’t resolve a customer’s problem, they are aware of and can signpost to the best form of help.

We are working as an industry to continue to build close links with the debt/money advice sector and think that more could be done to communicate to consumers that, in most cases, debt collection agencies are there to help. Where bad practice does occur, this should be flagged up and dealt with. We are raising standards but we also need to raise awareness.

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