Calls to regulate debt firms

PRIVATE debt companies “harassing people” for repayments must be regulated as they are in other countries, the head of the Free Legal Aid Centre has said.

Noeline Blackwell said it would be very easy to simply “copy” another country’s legislation to protect people stressed out over debt repayment.

Ms Blackwell said it is “beyond belief” that action has not been taken to reform outdated debt laws which are causing thousands of people stress and worry.

She said the problem has reached “serious and crisis” proportions and despite a lot of talk, actual reform has been miniscule.

“The thousands of people who call us not just about debt, but about employment law or family matters, are all suffering some stress in relation to debt,” she said.

“For us, the real problem is that while we recommend that they do this or that — in the end we have to tell them there is no remedy.”

Ms Blackwell said although the Government has only been in place for two months, it has known about this problem for years.

“It seems that the Government still has to come to grips with the absolute urgency of the need. Right now, people who are over-indebted must grapple with a court system which is never going to actually solve their problem and where all the power still lies with the lender.

“Banks will say that they are engaging with debtors, but they still can do this in whatever way suits their agenda. Any sustainable solution will involve a number of sections of Government coming together and coming up with an overall solution.”

Ms Blackwell said the technical work has been largely done, through the Law Reform Commission, over the past three years.

She said: “We have long called for the reform of an antiquated legal system which is not fit for purpose in the current recession.”

What is now needed, she said, is the political will to implement a solution.

“It is so frustrating that for the thousands of people who call FLAC for advice over debt problems that there is no solution to offer them.”

Another measure which could help people quickly and easily is to reform the mortgage interest supplement payment, she said.

“At the moment it depends on someone working 30 hours or not, and has nothing to do with level of need, and it is still the case that if you put your house up for sale you can’t get the payment.”


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