When collections and recovery practises are poor and inconsistent, people in debt find it harder to repay what they owe. This impacts their mental and physical wellbeing and increases their vulnerability, which can in turn contribute to further financial hardship. Focusing on debt recovery and collection practices has become more important than ever given the impact of COVID-19 on people’s financial resilience. According to the FCA, 8.1 million (16%) of UK adults are expected to take out a new credit product or borrow more on an existing one over the next six months.
Committing to better and fairer debt collection practices
Led by Nationwide Building Society and in partnership with other pathfinder organisations - including Anglian Water, BT, and Hammersmith and Fulham Council - the IEP has developed a Code of Best Practice for Debt Collection & Recovery. The Code is a set of high level principles which can be used by all organisations involved in consumer debt that sets out a consistent and responsible approach to collecting and recovery debt.
"Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed a significant number of people into financial hardship. We know that the recovery effort requires government, business and civil society organisations to work together.
That's why this Code is so important - establishing a common commitment for how consumers can expect to be treated by creditors. I welcome the initial signatories who recognise the benefits of this, and look forward to working with them and others to develop the Code further."
Baroness Barran MBE, Minister for Civil Society
Take for example a retail worker, previously working a 30 hour week, who has their hours dropped to 20, with no sign of this increasing again. They have multiple credit cards with multiple lenders as well as a payday loan. They live in rented accommodation and are behind on one of their bills. They have to juggle multiple repayment terms, multiple lenders, some of whom may have aggressive strategies for collecting their debt, all the while being in a highly stressful financial situation. In many instances, it is impossible for them to understand how different lenders will treat different debts. And we know that those struggling with debt issues are more likely to also be struggling with mental health issues, with each compounding the other.
“When someone is in financial difficulty, they are normally dealing with more than one organisation, typically financial services, utilities, telecoms or local councils. Whilst some organisations are fair and reasonable in working with the customer, practises can vary considerably between sectors. This can make already difficult situations even more stressful for people.
We think there should be a common standard for debt collection. This is why we have partnered with government and led a coalition of like-minded organisations to develop a new code of best practise for collections. At a time when many people are struggling with debt, we would like to see more businesses and local authorities commit to these fair and reasonable standards.”
Joe Garner, CEO Nationwide
Breathing space is the time provided to customers to enable them to receive help and support from independent debt advisors. The required mandatory 60 days, as of May 2021, refers to the Debt Respite Scheme breathing space. This enables independent advisers to seek a mandatory 60 days during which the customer is protected from creditor action whilst they receive and potentially enter an appropriate debt solution and applies only in England and Wales.
For more detail on working collaboratively with debt advice agencies, review the Money & Pensions Service Creditor Toolkit.
Customers worried about their finances but not yet in arrears can be engaged with the government sponsored Money Navigator Tool. The government sponsored Money Advice Service can help customers find support.