Debt collectors are not vetted by Garda
Dreaded debt collectors and bailiffs are not regulated or vetted by An Garda Siochana, Justice Minister Alan Shatter has revealed.
The disclosure comes as three universities hired debt collectors to recoup unpaid student fees.
In a written Dail response, Mr Shatter told Independent TD Mattie McGrath that statutes governing the regulation and licensing of private security firms did not extend to debt collectors and bailiffs employed by state agencies.
The Garda Central Vetting Unit provided vetting for 20,000 organisations, but criminal history vetting for general employment purposes, including debt collectors, was not available on demand.
Head of Social Justice with the St Vincent de Paul, John Mark McCafferty said he was concerned to hear of the disclosures. He said he would like to see debt collectors having to comply with consumer protection principles that respect the rights and dignity of debtors.
A code of conduct for credit management has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission as best practice for debt collection agencies. The code was produced by Stubbs Gazette, one of Ireland's leading business information and credit reporting agencies.
A spokesman for Stubbs Gazette said it was still a voluntary code of conduct and most debt collection agencies had yet to sign up to it.
Creditors who decide to pass overdue accounts on to third parties would be well advised to consider the decision as meticulously as they would a decision to outsource any other aspect of their business, James Treacy, managing director of Stubbs Gazette said.
He added that creditors needed to be sure they appoint a debt collection agency that will operate within the law, that won't cause them any reputational damage and that will hand over all funds recovered.
Sadly, not all collection agencies operate within the law and some unscrupulous agencies don't even return collection proceeds to the client. A good starting point is to select an agency that has signed up to the code of practice, he said.
It was reported last week that some universities had hired debt collectors to track down students for outstanding fees. Since the recession began, debt collectors have seen an unprecedented increase in demand for their services. They were also being used by local authorities.