Friday 5 March 2010

Days of 'debt farmers' numbered as Parliamentary consensus emerges

A strong consensus emerged in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, for the statutory regulation of property factors, in a debate led by Patricia Ferguson MSP, sponsor of the Property Factors (Scotland) Bill. The Official Report of the debate can be read here. You can watch the debate here.

The bill is assisted by GLC's Parliamentary Unit, and in our experience there is a dire need to protect homeowners from rogue factors, poor practice, and in many cases, financial exploitation. Housing Minister, Alex Neil MSP, said he wanted to sit down with Ms Ferguson, and MSPs from other parties, and would give serious consideration to supporting her bill. The Minister advised that resolving the problems around property factors was a 'priority issue' for the Scottish Government.

In opening the debate Ms Ferguson gave examples of the practices of one factor, whom she described as a 'debt farmer':

"Mr and Mrs A are being sued by their factor for almost £3,000. They have been sued several times over the last few years by the company, each time for several hundred pounds that is, ostensibly, due for administration charges, compound interest and legal fees. Their factors are, in my view, nothing more than debt farmers who grow vulnerable customer's debts on a weekly basis by applying excessive administration charges, compound interest and expenses".

"In this case, decrees prevent the family from opening a bank account. Their elderly and frail parents were sued by the same company and were made bankrupt. The family had to find £5,000 to pay the factor, even though the bulk of the sums that were due were for not the original debt but for administration charges, compound interest and legal fees".

Ms Ferguson's motion, as amended, was agreed to by the Parliament:

That the Parliament notes that the Office of Fair Trading market study into the property management market found that the market is not working well for consumers in Scotland; welcomes the recent cross-party support for proposals to require property factors to register and to make provision for an accessible form of dispute resolution between homeowners and property factors; further welcomes this positive progress toward the introduction of legislation to ensure better accountability of property managers for their standards and the services that they provide; seeks to ensure that the appropriate authorities are given the powers necessary for effective enforcement of any new legislation, and calls on the Scottish Government to give consideration to the introduction of a mandatory accreditation scheme to cover private, public and voluntary sector property managers.

GLC believes we are now considerably much closer to securing statutory protection for Scottish homeowners against bad and exploitative factoring practices.

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