The Credit Services Association (CSA)  has welcomed the support for fair treatment for people struggling with mental health but has expressed concern over the continued characterisation of their members as being ‘anti-consumer’.

The CSA, which represents over 300-member firms dealing with more than 40 million cases, has called upon the debt charity sector to work more closely with its members in supporting those with mental health issues, and crucially in bringing more cases to their attention if there is evidence of a customer not receiving fair treatment.

The CSA has highlighted the work that its members have done in supporting the consumer and in particular its Code of Practice that already includes a 30-day ‘breathing space’ with the option for a further 30 days if needed, for those identified as being vulnerable.

CSA Chief Executive Peter Wallwork said, “Treating all customers fairly has been at the heart of what our members do for a very long time, and many have specialist teams dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable customers.”

“The news that the Government is introducing a ‘Breathing Space’, and has accepted the ‘Recovery Space’ scheme proposal, is welcome, and we overwhelmingly support both, but it should not be forgotten that such guidance has already been part of our members’ best practice for some time and the key to both will be how they are implemented to ensure it does not overcomplicate the customer experience.”

Wallwork says that the CSA Code of Practice was the document used largely to create the OFT’s Debt Collection Guidance which was subsequently used by the FCA to produce the rules around debt collection in CONC. “Not only does it already include a 30-day breathing space, but also specific guidance for dealing with consumers identified as having mental health issues.”

Part of the problem is the continued confusion between private enforcement agents (often referred to as bailiffs) calling in person, and debt collection agencies. Both are employed by the major banks, credit card companies, utilities etc – but the latter collect debts over the phone.  He is also concerned by clients’ knee-jerk reaction to the latest campaign.

“Let us be very clear, identifying those with mental health problems is incredibly important but it is also incredibly difficult and needs the debt collection agencies, the debt charities, the medical profession, the government, and consumer champions like Martin Lewis to work together to find a solution.”

The CSA Code has a complete section on dealing with customers in vulnerable circumstances: “Our members all adhere to this Code and if they do not then we want to hear about it. I would suggest that they do, but debt is a complicated and emotive issue, and commentators are often quick to judge an industry, which has in reality moved on from the stereotypical view many still hold of it.”