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Debt collection Bill up for debate

A Bill designed to regulate debt collection is to be discussed in the House of Assembly today.

MPs will debate the Debt Collection (Amendment) Act in what is expected to be a long session. The Bill was first tabled by Walton Brown, then minister of home affairs, in July.

Walter Roban, the Deputy Premier, who took over the ministry from Mr Brown after a Cabinet reshuffle, tabled an amended version of the Bill this month. The amendments were made to tackle concerns raised by lawyers, businesses and organisations during a six-week consultation period that ended in September.

The Royal Gazette reported in October that lawyers had worried the Act, as first drafted, would not crack down on “punitive” and “exorbitant” fees charged by companies hired to collect debts.

A government spokeswoman said that the updated Bill provided a “comprehensive licensing framework” that would name the consumers affairs department the licensing authority to enforce rules on debt collection.

She added that it also wanted to make “predatory lending, including applying excessive interest rates and penalties that cause or is likely to cause substantial financial harm” to the debtor illegal.

The Bill was also designed to stop creditors making harassing phone calls, using “deceptive documents”, misrepresenting amounts owed by debtors and providing information to third parties without the consent of the debtor. The Customs Tariff Amendment (No 3) Act will also be debated by MPs.

The Bill proposes to remove customs duty on fixtures and fittings to improve the mobility of seniors in their own homes or residential care homes.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, confirmed last night that the ministry would table a Bill to amend the Children Act 1998 “with regards to litigation guardians”.

Experts said a section of the legislation was aimed at lessening the Family Court’s statutory obligation to consider appointing a litigation guardian — an independent advocate solely concerned with the best interests of the child — in court cases involving children. A number of other Bills are also expected to be tabled, as well as annual reports for the Human Rights Commission for 2016 and 2017 and two statements from ministers will be made.

Mr Brown, now the Minister for the Cabinet Office, will outline a restructuring at the Department of Human Resources.

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Labour, Community Affairs and Sport, will discuss a new public relations campaign for Workforce Development.