What do the public really think about the collections process?

17th October 2023

Myths and misconceptions about the collections process abound, and have done so for years. As the trade body for the collections and debt purchase sector, we wanted to properly understand public opinion about our sector – and the polling evidence we’ve found is a salutary corrective to many of the views that are sometimes given extensive airtime in the media. We commissioned pollster Opinium in August 2022 and again with similar questions this summer 2023, speaking to a representative sample of 2000 UK adults and giving us two independent points of reference to draw a few conclusions.

Comparing with last summer’s poll, we see that awareness of the work undertaken by debt collection agencies remains in the same region of 81%, while the numbers reporting that they have been contacted in recent years by a DCA is also stable at 17%, up slightly from 13% in last year’s survey, but within the margin for error. So despite what you might at first expect, especially in a news environment focused very much on cost of living pressures, the public’s interaction with collections agencies is stable. Perhaps this reflects our finding on the number of people who report that they’ve missed payments in the past five years, which is again stable at 22 per cent this year compared with 21 per cent last year.

When we asked those who’ve engaged with collections agencies about the professionalism of those contacting them, the results were consistently positive – which is perhaps the greatest example of why many of the supposed ‘truisms’ about debt collection need turning on their head. In both 2022 and 2023 more than twice as many people said they experienced good or excellent professionalism than reported a poor experience; 51% said “good” in 2022 with just 23% saying “poor”. Given that these are the views of individuals being asked to repay a debt, and so might be expected to feel some level of irritation, that is quite something! Virtually the same numbers were reported in 2023 (50% vs 23%).

Public opinion about the work of collections agencies is also broadly unchanged on last year; sentiment is still favourable towards the ‘need’ for DCAs to exist and do their work. The general public do understand why collections activity has to happen, because otherwise the cost and availability of credit would be adversely affected. 47 per cent of those interviewed say it is “reasonable” for those who miss a payment to be contacted by a DCA, with only 18 per cent disagreeing. The silent majority know that the collections process needs to take place.

What can we conclude from these opinion surveys?

First, the level of stability over the past couple of years while inflation has been high and cost pressures acute goes to show that – broadly speaking – there has not been an astronomical leap in missed payments or debt collection activity.

Second, the evidence suggests that engaging with collections agencies can be a positive experience especially if individuals with debts can be signposted to further support or offered forbearance or rephasing of payments due.

Third, while there is a vocal anti-credit activist voice on the fringes of social media and public debate, there is a clear silent majority of the public who accept that collections activity is reasonable and necessary if the credit cycle is to be maintained. There is always more work to be done to encourage dialogue between customers and creditors/collections agencies – but public opinion is not as hostile to the necessary process of collections and recoveries as some may suggest.

Chris Leslie, Chief Executive, Credit Services Association