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Choosing a debt management plan provider

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

There are lots of different organisations and companies that offer debt management plans (DMPs). It's important you choose the right provider for you. This applies whether or not you choose a free provider.

This page explains how you can choose a DMP provider.

Make sure you get all the information you need

DMP providers must give you the following information in writing:

  • where you can go for free debt advice
  • an explanation that if your first payment goes to the provider and not to your creditors, that your arrears will increase
  • that creditors are not obliged to accept the proposed payments or freeze interest and that therefore the total amount to be paid may increase
  • that creditors can continue with action to recover the debt, including court action
  • that the DMP may affect your credit rating
  • of the importance of meeting priority payments, for example, mortgage, rent and utilities
  • not to ignore letters and contact from creditors.

Finding a DMP provider

There are various ways to find a DMP provider, including:

  • through your local Citizens Advice Bureau
  • asking National Debtline for a referral
  • doing an internet search for debt management companies or debt management plans
  • in the Yellow Pages under debt adjustment and management
  • if you're already having debt advice or counselling, asking for a recommendation from your adviser
  • if you have friends or family with a DMP, asking them for a recommendation.

Questions to ask your DMP provider

It's important to do your research about your DMP provider and to check any agreement or contract carefully before you sign it. These are some questions you might want to ask:

Is the provider FCA authorised?

Anyone providing debt management services must be FCA authorised. This applies whether or not they charge a fee. By being authorised in this way, the company has to meet minimum standards. This should mean you can be confident that you'll be treated fairly, and if things do go wrong, you'll be able to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Is the provider a member of a trade association with a code of practice?

Some DMP providers belong to a trade association with a code of practice. This means that they are audited to make sure they follow the code of practice and have to follow a set procedure if you have a complaint. It also means that if they don't sort out your complaint properly, you can refer it to the trade association to investigate.

It's a good idea to ask your provider if they're a member of a trade association, as this may give you extra peace of mind. The main trade association for DMP providers is the Debt Managers Standards Association (DEMSA). The DEMSA has a code of practice approved by the Trading Standards Institute Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS).

Is the provider a member of the DMP protocol scheme?

Some DMP providers have signed up to the Debt Management Plan (DMP) protocol, which was set up by the government's Insolvency Service. While membership of the protocol is voluntary, any DMP provider who has signed up to the protocol is committed to certain standards in addition to the FCA’s rules and guidance

It's a good idea to ask your DMP provider if they've signed up to the protocol, as this may give you extra peace of mind.

You can see a list of DMP providers who have signed up to the DMP protocol at www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk

How will the DMP work?

Your DMP provider should be able to tell you:

  • the total cost of the DMP to you
  • how much you will end up repaying over the course of the DMP
  • how long the DMP will last for.

You should be given this information in writing when you sign the contract. If the provider needs to estimate any of these figures, for example if they're still negotiating with one of your creditors, your contract should contain a clear written warning that the figure is estimated. It should also explain what figures the estimate is based on.

Be wary of any provider that says it will hold your money for a future settlement rather than paying it straight to your creditors. If a provider that does this goes bankrupt while holding your money you might not be able to get it back.

What are the fees?

Your contract should explain all and any fees that you will be liable for. These may include an up-front fee, deposit or an ongoing fee that is deducted from your monthly payments. Make sure you're happy with the costs before you sign.

The fees should be spread over the duration of your plan. No more than half of any of your payments should be deducted towards fees in any month, and this should reduce after the first six months so that more money goes directly to your creditors.

Remember, if you're not happy with the idea of paying a fee, you don't have to. You can just choose one of the free DMP providers instead.

What happens if you cancel?

A DMP isn't legally binding, so you should be able to cancel it at any point. However, some companies may not give you a refund of fees you've paid if you cancel the DMP before it is finished. Check to see what the contract says about whether there's a cooling off period and what your cancellation rights are. If anything isn't clear, don't sign anything until you've asked the provider for more information in writing.

How will it be managed over time?

Find out how the DMP provider will keep in touch with you during the DMP. For example, you might get a nominated account manager, who you can contact for information or advice.

What other support will you get?

Your DMP provider doesn't have to give you general advice about managing your money and staying out of debt, but they do have to give you information about how to get free debt advice. Some DMP providers also give their own debt advice. Think about whether you would benefit from having your DMP with a provider that will give you this extra support. If this is important to you, be sure to ask the provider what other support and help it will give you.

Remember, you should never pay for advice.

Next steps

More information

Debt Managers Standards Association
West Point
Westland Square
Leeds
LS11 5SS
Tel: 0113 277 7610
Fax: 0113 277 3586
Email: info@demsa.co.uk
Website: www.demsa.co.uk

More about the Trading Standards Consumer Codes Approval Scheme at www.tradingstandards.uk.

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