Debt firms are read the riot act

The OFT has published its revised guidance for the debt management industry, following a raft of complaints over misleading marketing.
Since the OFT published the findings of its compliance review in September 2010 and issued a warning to 129 debt management businesses, 43 businesses have surrendered their licences and action has been taken to revoke 11 consumer credit licences.
The guidance update follows a review of compliance in the sector which found, amongst other things, widespread problems with misleading advertising and the quality of advice given in the fee charging sector. Together with targeted OFT enforcement, the revised guidance is designed to address the issues identified by the review.
The guidance sets out the standards the OFT expects of debt management businesses and makes clear they must:
• be fully transparent about the service on offer and fees charged
• explain to consumers both the risks and benefits of each proposed solution
• not use misleading names or advertising, including misleading web-based ads, and
• ensure that the advice provided is in customers’ best interests.
The overall theme of the guidance is increasing transparency and ensuring that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed decision about the solution most appropriate for them.
Where appropriate, the OFT will take enforcement action against businesses failing to adhere to the guidance.
David Fisher, director of the OFT’s Consumer Credit Group, said: “This guidance is designed to leave firms in no doubt about the standards the OFT expects and what they must do to comply with the law. The failings identified by our recent review are unacceptable and show that debt management businesses must raise their standards or face enforcement action.”

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