OFT Revises Debt Collection Guidance
The OFT has published its updated Debt Collection Guidance which sets out the standards expected of all businesses engaging in the recovery of consumer credit debts, including banks, law firms and tracing agents as well as traditional debt collectors.
It also sets out specific business practices that the OFT considers to be unfair or improper, such as using Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites to contact debtors, as well as contacting debtors at unreasonable times, or at inappropriate locations, for example when they are a patient in hospital.
The OFT produced its original Debt Collection Guidance in July 2003, and updated it in December 2006.
This latest version of the Guidance was subject to consultation between 10 March and 2 June 2011. 65 responses were received to the consultation and, in addition, a number of consultation workshops were held.
More generally, the guidance warns against misuse of continuous payment authority to recover debts, such as making recurring attempts to recover a single repayment.
It also highlights the responsibilities of all parties involved in the debt recovery process, including creditors, for the quality and level of information they maintain and exchange with others, in order to avoid the wrong person being pursued for a debt.
Further, the guidance provides greater clarity on the OFT’s position on issues such as reasonably queried and disputed debt and statute barred debt.
Additionally, it makes debt recovery businesses aware that they should adopt appropriate practices and procedures for dealing with particularly vulnerable debtors.
David Fisher, the OFT’s Director of Consumer Credit, said: “In the present economic climate, with many people, including those who may be particularly vulnerable, in financial difficulties, it is crucial they are treated fairly by companies recovering their debts.
“This updated guidance makes clear the standards the OFT expects of all businesses involved in debt recovery, including debt collectors, banks and law firms.”
The OFT accepts that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, statute barred debt still exists and is therefore recoverable.
However, the Guidance sets out certain practices in relation to the recovery of statute barred debt that the OFT considers to be unfair or improper. In Scotland, statute barred debt is ‘extinguished’ and is consequently no longer recoverable.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 requires most businesses offering credit, lending money or involved in activities relating to credit or hire, such as debt collectors, to be licensed by the OFT.
The OFT produces guidance to clarify its expectations of those companies and individuals that hold a consumer credit licence. Failure to have regard to OFT guidance can call into consideration the business’ fitness to hold a consumer credit licence.