Debt management firms

Summary

The project investigates the regulation of debt management firms in Australia and internationally.  This research is funded and commissioned by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Researchers

Project background and aims

The financial impact of Covid-19 has led to increasing debt and vulnerability to predatory conduct by businesses seeking to profit from consumers in financial difficulty. Consumer advocates have raised significant concerns regarding harm to vulnerable consumers caused by debt management firms (DMFs). Likewise, ASIC’s report in 2016 reveals that fees and costs of DMFs’ services are often opaque, and consumers in financial difficulty are commonly channelled towards high-cost services provided by DMFs which are unsuited to their needs when there are cheaper and more suitable options for managing debt.

The research is commissioned by ASIC and is aimed at facilitating a more nuanced understanding of:

a) the international regulation of DMFs;

b) challenges faced by Australian consumers who have engaged the services of DMFs; and

c) potential reforms to the Australian regulatory framework aimed at strengthening safeguards for vulnerable consumers from harm.

Methodology

The research engages with professionals who assist consumers in financial stress such as financial counsellors, specialist community legal centres and dispute resolution providers.  Through focus group discussions, we aim to gather more information which will help shed light on business models of DMFs and their interactions with consumers.  We examine the regulatory frameworks for DMFs in Canada, UK, US and internationally, and their impact, to learn from the experience gained in other countries.  Our study will provide crucial information which will assist law reformers in formulating a suitable regulatory framework to meet the specific needs of Australian consumers.

Publications related to this project