Covid: the battle for unpaid bills begins – Economic Policy

Covid: the battle for unpaid bills begins – Economic Policy
Covid: the battle for unpaid bills begins – Economic Policy

Soon, the support measures supposed to mitigate the financial consequences of the pandemic will come to an end. A wave of unpaid bills is approaching. Bailiffs and collection agencies are fighting for a piece of the pie. The government is trying to keep costs down.

Soon, business support measures will expire. Federal aid, such as temporary unemployment, will disappear. At the end of June, the moratorium on tax debts has already expired, which means that we are returning to a normal pace.

Soon, business support measures will expire. Federal aid, such as temporary unemployment, will disappear. At the end of June, the moratorium on tax debts has already expired, which means that we are returning to a normal pace. “Many unpaid debts will resurface”, predicts Guy Colpaert, member of the board of directors of the Swedish collection group of Intrum receivables. The central personal loans of the National Bank of Belgium has 452,890 unpaid debts. “This number will only increase. The pandemic has put citizens in misery”, declares Bart Vandesompele, director of Socrem, a non-profit association created by debt collection agencies. “The courts will be overwhelmed. The government agreement wants to make the costly collection process more humane for those in precarious situations. However, the debt industry will likely already be in full swing before the law change is made. approved. “Socrem wants to encourage amicable recovery. A debtor with temporary financial problems then agrees with one or more creditors to stagger the repayment of the debt. Judicial recovery involves the intervention of a bailiff, who may require a seizure. This is only possible through an “enforceable title, such as the decision of a justice of the peace, for example. A proceeding before the justice of the peace for a debt of 50 euros increases the amount payable to 320. euros due to legal fees and other additional costs. “This is not reasonable”, explains Dirk De Groote, justice of the peace in Oudenaarde. “Neither for the debtor nor for the creditor. The bailiff advances these costs, and if he cannot recover them from the debtor, the creditor must pay them. During hearings, I sometimes see parties stunned by the amount of the bill. “” The only person who benefits from a judicial recovery is the bailiff, “said Guy Colpaert.” It is in his interest that the tribunal is involved as quickly as possible. Every on-site visit, every reminder letter and every public sale guarantees him income at fixed rates based on a Royal Decree of 1976, when letters were still being processed manually. “According to Kris Slabbaert, from Agerant Gerechtsdeurwaarders and the National Chamber of Judicial Officers, the bailiffs are not in such a hurry to go to court: “Bailiffs always start with an amicable recovery, which is also their obligation under the law. We cannot initiate legal proceedings without an explicit mandate from the creditor. And if we know that it is of no use, because the debtor simply cannot afford it, we advise against going to court. It is our legal duty to keep costs down. We also agree that the rates must be changed. “” Pushing debtors or their customers to spend is at the heart of the economic model of bailiffs, “replied Bart Vandesompele.” Large agencies earn millions by increasing costs on the basic amount of the debt through judicial recovery “(see box A beautiful return). Bart Vandesompele pleads for the obligation of amicable recovery, before being able to appeal to the court.” It is sometimes preferable. propose a deferral to the debtor facing a temporary financial problem. When the court kicks in, senior creditors, such as the bank, end up with most of the money anyway. Make no mistake: anyone who does not want to pay should be able to be sent to court. “Of course, collection agencies advocate compulsory amicable collection, answers Kris Slabbaert:” They live on it. However, these recoveries are not subject to any control. In the event of judicial recovery, the justice of the peace checks whether there is any usury or excessive compensation. During an amicable recovery, the fine print of the contract allows the creditor to enrich himself to the detriment of the debtor. We are arguing for legal maximums for additional costs in the event of amicable collection. “Socrem is also in favor of these maximums.” I know that there are collection companies that survive on the wear and tear of debts. ” says Bart Vandesompele. However, since the 2002 law regulates our sector, there has been a strict control of bad practices. Cowboys are gradually disappearing; “A burden for Justice Judge De Groote points out that legal proceedings also cost money. money to the government. “I spend a lot of time dealing with unpaid invoices, which would be better managed outside the court,” he testifies. “In thousands of cases involving debts of less than 100 euros, no other opposing party appears in court. Each judgment increases the debt.” The Royal Union of Justices of the Peace and Police, in which Dirk De Groote is active, makes a proposal. At the request of a private debtor or the CPAS, the judicial officer centralizes all debts and proposes a repayment plan to all parties. The justice of the peace must approve it. In the event of non-compliance, its decision constitutes a title which allows the creditors to act immediately. The debtor pays the bailiff’s fees: a one-off amount of 150 euros and a maximum of 50 euros per payment. The free enforcement order would seriously reduce the cost for creditors. “An advantage which may convince them to approve the repayment plan”, says Dirk De Groote. “For the moment, the justices of the peace are dealing with the first cases within the framework of this procedure on a voluntary basis by the debtor and the bailiff. We have also received a positive response on the political level.” The Minister of Justice Vincent van Quickenborne (Open Vld) called the proposal to Parliament “an interesting line of thought”. He also referred to the initiative of the National Chamber of Judicial Officers and the Antwerp Alderman for Social Affairs Tom Meeuws (Vooruit). The Chamber will soon launch a digital platform allowing the CPAS of Antwerp to report the insolvency of a debtor to the judicial officer at an early stage of the recovery process. “In this way, we avoid unnecessary costs for the debtor”, says Kris Slabbaert. “The CPAS can then work with the debtor on other solutions, such as collective debt settlement. We want to deploy this pilot project nationwide at a later date. This platform could help avoid a lot of frustration in everyone. the camps. ”

 
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