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Crack down on hardline debt collectors

Issued: 12 Aug 2010

Trading Standards Officers have joined forces with Money Advice Service colleagues on The Highland Council to tackle the "unacceptable and aggressive practices" of debt collectors.

Gordon Robb, principal trading standards officer, highlighted the joint effort to address the problem while presenting the annual report of the Council's trading standards service to a meeting of the Transport Environmental and Community Services Committee.

He said the aggressive and harassing debt collection techniques were often directed to the most vulnerable consumers in the Highlands.

The unacceptable behaviour was not restricted to "fly-by-night" credit companies, but had also been used by the major banks and large debt collection agencies.

He said: "The difficult economic times of the last few years have seen an increase in aggressive and harassing debt collection techniques."

These practices included:

  • Letters threatening legal action which cannot be taken, e.g. seizing the consumer's essential possessions, suing the consumer in a court in England, forcing the sale of the consumer's house.
  • Inappropriate telephone methods, such as very regular calls or calls to the consumer's work.
  • Contacting the consumer directly when a clear written arrangement has been made for creditors to deal only with a third party e.g. Money Advice Officers.

He added: "Money advice officers are routinely checking for any evidence of such practices in relation to their clients. Any information gleaned is being passed directly to designated officers within Trading Standards, with the permission of the clients. Each case is then investigated appropriately. New Regulations called The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (known as the "CPRs") have created the offence of using an "aggressive commercial practice" and this has given Trading Standards Officers new "ammunition" to deal with such cases. In addition, any business involved in credit - including debt collectors - must be licensed and follow guidelines as to fit and proper conduct for a licensee.

"In addition to dealing with individual cases, Trading Standards is also compiling all the information received about this topic with a view to producing a future report on their findings."

Mr Robb also highlighted the partnership working between Trading Standards and Visit Scotland in Inverness.

Any complaints that Visit Scotland receives from the public or other consumer protection issues which have been raised about tourist accommodation, facilities anywhere in Scotland are referred to Trading Standards, to be dealt with or re-routed as necessary to the Trading Standards service where the relevant business is based.

He said: "This relationship has undoubtedly raised the awareness of our service on the regulatory issues associated with what is an extremely important industry for the Highlands and has resulted in the industry in the Highland and Visit Scotland being better informed about what the legal requirements are and a number of investigations into Highland based businesses who choose not to listen."

Committee Chairman Councillor John Laing paid tribute to the important work carried out by Trading Standards officers.

He said: "The annual report highlights the excellent work being carried out by our staff to highlight the rights of consumers and to call to account aggressive debt collectors and rogue traders ."

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