Home Affairs Minister Walton Brown has tabled a new Bill to clamp down on unscrupulous debt collectors with new regulations on their practices.
As a result, he told he parliamentary colleagues on Friday, that borrowers will have greater protection, through a “comprehensive licensing regulatory framework” for agents involved in recovering funds.
Speaking on the new Debt Collection Act 2018, the Minister said: “Historically, consumer transactions were presumed fair because it was assumed that buyers and sellers bargained from equal positions of power.
But he said: “Complaints by consumers, however, demonstrate that they are inherently at a disadvantage especially in the areas of consumer debt and the collection of that debt.
“Our current debt collection practices are creating further consumer indebtedness due to exorbitant interest and administrative charges.
“This indebtedness is compounded by the lack of transparency and accountability to the debtor within the industry.”
The new Bill “provides oversight by a licensing authority” in a bid to”“eliminate abusive practices”, he added.
The list of abuses cited by the Minister included excessive interest rates or hidden charges, and making harassing phone calls”.
He also said that one of the “most egregious” actions” taken by debt collectors, was the provision of communication with other individuals or organisations “discussing the debtor or their debt with a third party or providing information about the debtor to anyone without verifying the veracity of the information shared”.
As a result he said: “I have heard complaints from Bermudians that they were refused a job because information was allegedly shared by a debt collection agency.”
And the new Bill offers protection through ““accountability and oversight”, with the introduction of a licensing authority and debt collection officer.
Most importantly, he said: “It places the debtor on equal footing with creditors and collectors ensuring accountability by all parties who engage in the process of extending credit and debt collection.”
He also urged stakeholders to participate in the six-week consultation period set to end on September 14, including the Bar Council, judiciary, debt collection agencies and businesses”.
“There will also be a public-relations campaign to obtain participation from the general public.
“At the conclusion of the consultation period the information will be reviewed and shared with the Attorney-General’s Chambers in order to consider amendments to the Bill, where necessary.
“I would ask all interested parties to use the six-week consultation period to provide their input and concerns to assist in producing an Act that will benefit consumers who are debtors, companies that extend credit and the agencies responsible for collecting debts.”
The new Licensing Authority will be constituted from officers within Consumer Affairs.
It was also noted that the “Consultation Bill represents the first tranche of proposals to address the Government’s Throne Speech commitment to introduce regulations for debt collection agencies; regulate payday lenders who lend money at extraordinary interest rates; and bring banking, insurance and other financial service conduct under the umbrella of an updated Consumer Protection Act.”
“Further legislation will be proposed to address consumer services provided by the banking, insurance and other financial service industries after consultation with the public and private sector stakeholder groups,” he added.