Rights ombudsman supports full ban on debt collectors in Russia

Debtor's portrait billboard made up at Kaliningrad "Debt Collection Center" collection agency. © Igor Zarembo
Russia’s new Human Rights chief Tatiana Moskalkova has told reporters that she supports a ban on private debt collectors and at the same time wants to improve working conditions of court bailiffs.

I would support the idea of stopping the work of collector agencies and significant changes in the work of court bailiffs – their structure, status, functions and equipment, because the current level of their salaries causes low quality of their work and a constant deficit of skilled professionals,” Interfax quoted Moskalkova as saying on Monday.

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The growing overall size of bad credit in Russia as well as lack of consumer experience in the sphere of credit have already led to numerous incidents in which collectors apparently overstepped their legal abilities, sometimes resorting to downright criminal tactics.

In one of the most gruesome incidents that took place in January this year, a tax collector reportedly petrol-bombed a home in the city of Ulyanovsk, injuring an elderly man and a two-year-old boy. As mass media reported about this event, upper house Speaker Valentina Matviyenko urged the parliament to impose a temporary ban on collectors’ activities until a special law is passed to regulate this sphere.

READ MORE: Toddler in Russia burnt by Molotov cocktail apparently thrown by debt collector

In February, chairs of both parliamentary chambers jointly drafted the bill proposing restrictions on debt collector agencies. The document directly bans debt collectors from using physical force or threats, deceit or damage to property. The collectors are also not allowed to disclose the information about debtors – either through personal contacts with relatives or co-workers, or through various media, like the internet or outdoor advertising. The document also allows collectors only two phone calls and one personal meeting with an individual debtor per week. It is specified that neither phone calls nor meetings can take place at nighttime.

In mid-March, the bill was approved by the government without any correction, according to mass media reports.

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Currently the work of collection agencies in Russia is regulated by the Law on Consumer Credit. This act has some provisions aimed at protecting debtors, but its practical execution has proved these measures to be insufficient.

According to the state consumer rights agency Rospotrebnadzor, the total amount of overdue debts sold by banks to collector agencies is currently over 400 billion rubles (US$5.7 billion) and is expected to remain on the same level till the end of 2016.