Regulators Make Sure That Debt Counsellors Can Be Trusted

It is a comfort to consumers that those who advise the public on money matters are tightly regulated and can be swiftly shut down if they fail to come up to scratch. Exactly that happened in one case involving a small 'debt adjusting' and counselling business, following intervention by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The company's business model was to enter into non-statutory agreements with creditors, on behalf of its debtor clients, by which the latter could pay off their debts in instalments. It had about 450 clients, to whom it charged arrangement fees on such agreements being reached and monthly administration fees.

Following an inquiry by the FCA, the company's permission to carry out regulated activities was suspended. That was primarily on the basis that its human resources were inadequate to meet regulatory standards. The company's director was said to have failed to demonstrate that he had the necessary skills and experience to manage the business in a sound and prudent manner.

The company challenged that decision before the Upper Tribunal (UT) and sought a stay on the suspension so that it could continue trading pending the outcome of its appeal. It was submitted that its clients would suffer if it were forced out of business and that steps had been taken to remedy any shortcomings.

However, in refusing to lift the suspension, the UT noted that the company had still not employed a full-time compliance officer and that serious concerns remained about its management. In those circumstances, the balance came down firmly in favour of protecting consumers. The ruling means that the company will have to cease regulated activities forthwith.

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