OFT clamps down on misleading debt claims

The OFT has forced debt management lead generation firm Money Advice Direct Limited (MADL) to change its ‘misleading’ advertising.

MADL operates by introducing people to debt management plan and Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) providers via its website but the OFT was concerned about false statements and misleading content on the company’s website.

The main crux of the upheld complaint was that the OFT felt that this ‘misleading’ web site content encouraged consumers to believe, albeit incorrectly, that MADL was a not for profit organisation providing debt management solutions. The truth however is that rather than a non for profit. MADL is a commercial business acting as a lead generation company that passes contact details to debt management companies in exchange for a fee.

OFT demands change to debt help firm’s advertising

The requirements imposed on MADL by the OFT set out that its advertising content across all media types, including its website, must:

1)     Make it very clear to consumers that the company does not provide or administer debt solutions;

2)     Provide consumers with adequate information about the service being offered;

3)     Not imply that the service is impartial or independent;

4)     Make its commercial status clear and not give the impression through any of its advertising that it is a charity or a publicly funded body;

5)     Ensure advertising of its debt management services is consistent with the standards set out in the OFT’s Debt Management Guidance.

Separately, the OFT is also taking action to vary the company’s existing trading name ‘The UK Insolvency Helpline’ and to refuse its application to add the trading names ‘www.ivahelpline.co.uk’ and ‘www.insolvencyhelpline.co.uk’ to its licence. This action is subject to final determination by an OFT Adjudicator. As per the complaint, the misleading element is that MADL is a provider of a debt or insolvency helpline, when this is not the reality.

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) commented: ‘This is a very positive development. Dealing with unmanageable debt is incredibly stressful. Trying to work out where to seek help only adds to this stress, so it is important that those offering advice clearly state what they are providing. ‘It is particularly important that consumers are not misled into believing a service is free when it is not, or that they are dealing with a charity when they are not.’

Which? The consumer watchdog added: ‘A quick Google search for debt advice throws up a variety of sponsored links from commercial debt management companies and lead generators. I think it is unethical for fee-charging firms to promote themselves in this way.”

Consumers in debt are encouraged to contact CCCS, namely the Consumer Credit Counselling Service. Through its free national telephone service, ten regional centres and online CCCS Debt Remedy site, CCCS is able to help people with debt problems wherever they live.

Debt Recovery Outlook

Reading about misleading debt advice advertising and rogue debt management agencies, some of which was covered in previous blogs, is quite disheartening as a member firm in the debt industry.

Obviously CCDR is not in the business of advising consumers about their debt in any case and whilst we do recover debts on behalf of clients, more often than not, on a commercial debt recovery basis, misleading and or entirely false claims and representations have no place in any industry, especially not in respect of debt. In many cases, consumers have been left worse off after engaging misleading ‘debt advisors’ than they were beforehand and it is encouraging to see the OFT take a tough line with that practice.

With consumer spending and commercial investment believed to fall or at best stagnate throughout 2011 and as a result, the UK is expected to  experience more job losses, increased debtor days, higher levels of debt disputes, increased bad debts and more and more IVA’s, Company Voluntary Arrangement’s and the like, the debt industry on a whole is only set to increase.

Whilst the debt industry growing is perhaps good news to those debt recovery agencies and the like whom operate within it, it does obviously mean more challenging circumstances are ahead for many and we are still sensitive to that fact.

Debt is in deed a sensitive issue, and whilst we cant speak for the whole industry, our reputation at CCDR (Corporate Credit Debt Recovery Ltd) speaks for itself in that we have a very high success ratio for our clients, but without the need for heavy handed practices.

At Corporate Credit Debt Recovery (CCDR) we act in our client’s interests in recovering debt and a big part of this is to show respect for your brand and its reputation.

Corporate Credit Debt Recovery provides services such as debtor tracing, ongoing business reports, commercial debt collection and debt recovery to a range of UK and EuroZone clients ranging from small to medium enterprises to large scale financial instution

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