Recent media reports using figures from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) fail to mention that the total number of complaints relating to debt collection activities has in fact fallen year-on-year, is significantly lower than any other activity in the consumer credit space, and represents only 0.0021% of the 50,000,000 accounts handled by CSA members. Of these complaints, less than a third (31%) were upheld.
It is also important to understand that the total number of complaints relates to debt collection activities as opposed to debt collection agencies per se, and therefore includes complaints raised against in-house collections teams within banks and other financial services institutions.
A 3% fall in complaints against debt collection should be seen in the context of an 83% increase in complaints against credit reference agencies, a 73% rise in complaints against hiring, renting and leasing businesses, and a 64% increase in complaints regarding payday loans (17,256 complaints in 2018 versus 10,529 in 2017).
The decidedly small, and indeed falling, number of complaints relating to debt collection activities, particularly against a backdrop of rising complaints elsewhere, illustrates the level of commitment from CSA members, and other financial services creditors, to treating their customers fairly when collecting outstanding debts. It also demonstrates the effectiveness with which they do so.
Singling out debt collectors in this way fails to take into account the significant progress the industry has made in the last ten years, especially in the identification and treatment of vulnerable customers, work that has been acknowledged by the regulator, the Ombudsman, and the various debt charities.
Whereas the CSA accepts that any complaint is one complaint too many, failing to provide proper context does the agencies a considerable disservice in the work that they do in treating customers fairly, helping them to become debt free, and returning significant sums to the UK economy.
Some creditors outside of financial services might indeed benefit from the high-level musings in the Money Advice Service’s creditor toolkit, but they can learn more from the practical expertise of those firms that are already delivering a high level of customer care.