Welcoming the letter to the Chancellor sent by more than 50 MPs and Peers calling for a Debt Management Bill to implement serious and systematic improvements to Government debt collection, StepChange Debt Charity says that the time to address this longstanding issue is absolutely right, given the scale of debt that will be owed in the post-Covid recovery period, and the importance of ensuring safe and fair practices that facilitate repayment of debt while preventing harm, especially to vulnerable people.
As the Parliamentarians note, the sad fact is that Government debt collection practices lag behind those in the regulated credit sector – a point that StepChange and other debt charities have evidenced through client experience and published in research over a number of years. At worst, the over-use of bailiffs (themselves inadequately regulated) to enforce Government debt can be positively dangerous.
Peter Tutton, StepChange Head of Policy, says: “We agree that the time has come for comprehensive legislation to provide a clear, fair and coherent framework for Government debt collection to match the practices of the regulated credit sector. There, FCA rules have succeeded in creating a far better environment – for both borrowers and lenders – where treating people fairly is enshrined as a principle and backed up by prescriptive rules that implement it in practice. Our latest research suggests that 820,000 people owe council tax debts alone, and it cannot be right that, far from leading the way, Government debt sector practices remain woefully behind those of the credit sector. Now is the perfect time to right that failure.”