THE Department of Finance and the Financial Regulator have expressed concern over unregulated private debt management firms, some of which are claiming to be “government-backed schemes”, in order to draw people in.
An analysis of the companies by the Irish Examiner shows there are dozens such firms advertised online — some of which are operating aggressively, saying they are government schemes. However, unlike the state Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) service, which is free, these firms charge hundreds of euros to consolidate and manage personal debt.
Spokespersons for the Department of Finance and the Financial Regulator said it was very concerning that some of the companies were using the line “government-backed scheme” in their advertising.
“MABS is the only government-backed scheme,” the Department of Finance said.
“It is concerning to see that when you type MABS into Google some of these firms come up first.”
The companies tend to operate in similar ways, by asking potential clients to fill out details online — how much you owe and earn along with your contact details — and then they follow this up with a phone call from an agent. After this a repayment plan is agreed, with fees based on how much is being paid back.
Labour TD Ciara Conway has raised the issue with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who invited her to make a submission on it during the debate on the Finance Bill.
Ms Conway said she was urging the Government to bring in regulations to monitor the activities of such debt management services.
“I’ve been working with the Waterford branch of the (MABS) on this issue, and that group is very worried about the increase in unregulated private debt management services,” Ms Conway said.
“I’ve raised the matter with the Taoiseach and I’ll be continuing to work with MABS Waterford and other interested parties on this issue over the next few weeks after which we will be submitting our recommendations.”
A spokeswoman for the Financial Regulator said people must realise that banks have teams in place to help with debt restructuring, a service that is completely free.
She said while the regulator cannot do anything as private debt firms fall outside regulation, she was “very concerned” about the way they are marketing themselves.
MABS spokesman Michael Culloty said very often people who are in debt are stressed and not thinking straight.
“People might go online and see these companies being advertised so they might go for it.”
He said there is a place for regulated companies of this kind for people who can afford it, but when people have no resources it is not the answer.
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