The CSA has lashed out at advice websites for “encouraging” people to evade debts.
In a powerpoint presentation which has been seen by the Guardian, the CSA (Credit Services Association) claims such sites are guilty of “encouraging” people to evade debts, provide “breeding grounds for misinformation” and “insult” banks and debt collectors.
The CSA are, of course, the trade body for debt collection agencies and is holding workshops for its members aim at combating organisations such as Consumer Action Group.
A section of the presentation entitled “What do they actually do?” said online forums “celebrate ‘victories’ against creditors, set up tallies of how much has been refunded in bank charges [and] provide standard template letters”.
It outlined some of the most common claims made and said it had provided the Ministry of Justice with evidence of bad practice as well as suggesting possible amendments to primary legislation with the consumer affairs minister.
It added that it had “discussed consumer forums and CMCs [claims management companies] with the OFT”.
The trade body named five sites: the Consumer Action Group, Blagger.com, Penaltychargesforum.co.uk, Getoutofdebtfree.org and Legalbeagles.info.
But Marc Gander, a co-founder of the CAG, said it was “a real shame” debt recovery firms felt they had to set up a mechanism to combat sites such as his.
“They seem to view us as some variation of animal rights activists,” he added.
The CAG, set up in 2006, was one of the first online self-help organisations to help people challenge banks over “unfair” charges and loan agreements that could be unenforceable.
Similar high-profile websites include Martin Lewis’s “consumer revenge” site MoneySavingExpert.com, which was not named by the CSA.
The consumer revolt over current account penalty charges triggered a huge surge in the number of sites offering to help people take on banks, credit card companies and loan providers.
Some of these were described as “irresponsible” by the debt collectors’ body, but Gander said bank charges would never have been made a priority by the OFT without websites such as his.
The OFT launched a high-profile legal battle over the issue, but it ended in defeat last month.
“Consumer websites are here for keeps,” Gander said. “They had better learn to live with it. How many people do they really want to be in conflict with?”
A spokesman for the CSA said websites that helped borrowers manage their debts responsibly were to be welcomed, but those setting out simply to help debtors avoid debts were “grossly irresponsible”.
“Avoiding debts is not a victimless crime – it impacts everybody in the long run,” the spokesman said.
“If a website gave advice on how to shoplift, consumers – and retailers – would be up in arms, so how can it be right for a site to effectively encourage people to make off with money that isn’t theirs?”
The spokesman said the CSA had relaunched its website with a consumer help section and engaged with consumer advice bodies to help people manage their debts.