Many debt firms make financial problems worse, warns OFT

Many debt firms make financial problems worse, warns OFT

15:02 PM, 27th October 2010, About 14 years ago

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Debt management firms can make financial problems worse for those that owe money by giving poor advice and misleading consumers by claiming to offer free services while taking hidden fees.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned 129 firms that their credit licences will be withdrawn if they do not show immediate action has been taken to relieve concerns about the way they work and to improve standards.

Debt management companies are fee-charging firms that provide advice and solutions to consumers with debt problems.

The services they offer can include arranging individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs), setting up debt management plans, and negotiating settlements with creditors.

Consumers contacting debt management companies tend to be over-indebted, vulnerable, and desperate for help with managing their financial difficulties, says the OFT.

The OFT is acting to clean up the sector after reviewing how the firms advertise and operate. The key findings of the review found:

  • Misleading advertising claims debt management services are free but fails to disclose a fee is retained by the business
  • Frontline debt advisers are incompetent and give poor advice based on inadequate information
  • Industry awareness of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) rules for resolving consumer complaints is low.
      Ray Watson, Director of the OFT’s Consumer Credit Group, said: “People who are heavily indebted, desperate and vulnerable need advice which makes their problem better not worse and should not be exploited. Debt management firms must be clear about their charges and the options available to customers.”The level of non-compliance we found across the industry is unacceptable. If any of the 129 firms identified do not improve their standards substantially they will be the subject of licensing action by the OFT.”Since April 2008, the OFT has taken 37 formal actions to impose requirements or refuse or revoke licences held or applied for by debt management businesses.

      Other OFT actions have included shutting down websites and addressing issues such as companies masquerading as charities, systemic cold calling and the mis-selling of IVAs.

      Michael Land, chairman of the Debt Managers Standards Association (DEMSA) said: “DEMSA and its members fully support the OFT’s drive towards higher standards in the debt management sector.

      “DEMSA members have long been committed to raising standards, indeed DEMSA is the only trade body in the sector to have received approval of its code under the OFT’s Consumer Codes Approval Scheme. We will continue to work closely with the OFT to lead the drive towards higher standards and we are encouraged that the OFT has acknowledged the key role for DEMSA in doing so.”

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