Yesterday, I attended the annual conference of the Debt Resolution Forum, which is one of only two professional associations to represent practitioners in the commercial debt counseling sector. The other is DEMSA. You may recall, that this is an industry which took a battering from the Office of Fair Trading only a few weeks ago, and not without reason.
As our seminar set out, the level of personal debt in the UK is such that we have not so much a debt market, as a market for debtors. People in financial difficulty can be a lucrative customer base and we need to address this.
So why did we cross over to the "dark side"?
Well, Zero-credit has always maintained that paid advice can be appropriate in some circumstances. Like or not, debtors are consumers: some do not like the involvement of creditors in debt advice charities, whilst others feel uncomfortable with faith based advice. Some are just too busy or embarrassed to wait at a busy advice centre.
Irrespective of how misguided some of these perceptions might be, we believe that debtors need a solution which works for their individual needs, otherwise they're not going to get out of unmanageable debt. And with at least 15 million adults not coping with credit, we need to explore all the options.
Another reason for attending yesterday's conference was the increasing likelihood that debt advice, like so many other publicly funded services, may be cut. As well as campaigning against this, we do have to deal with the outcomes if they are. Who are the people who are paid for debt advice? What are their principles and motives? And ultimately, what can Zero-credit do to protect debtors' interests?
We have watched the professional debt counseling associations for some time. It is important to note that a large number of firms are members of neither, so if you want paid advice, make sure you're using a DEMSA or DRF member, as both work closely with the OFT to raise standards and close loopholes. In 2008, for instance, and accredited by Edexel, the DRF introduced the BTEC Advanced Certificate in Debt Resolution.
Both the OFT and the Insolvency Service spoke at yesterday's conference, as did the Crusader Columnist and Daily Express journalist Maisha Frost. More particularly, many of the people that I met were passionate, committed and proud of what they did. One, from Cleardebt, particularly stands out: "I like the way we see a client through the whole case - many other companies don't. I can be there for them, whether they have a baby, become ill, lose a job and because I've been there talking to them from the start, I can help."
Paid or unpaid, the security of someone who cares about your problems is priceless. Find that, and you're well on your way out of debt.