153. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on changes to current debt collection practices. [20221/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Responsibility for the licensing of the financial activity of debt collectors does not come within the area of responsibility of my Department. However, I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to my proposal, approved by Government on 6 May 2015, for the drafting of the Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill which will provide for the introduction of additional measures for the enforcement of civil debt.
The proposed Bill will implement a number of recommendations of the Law Reform Commission (LRC) in relation to the enforcement of debt. The LRC Report published in 2010 on Personal Debt Management and Debt Enforcement made a number of recommendations for wide scale reform of the existing personal insolvency and debt enforcement regimes. Key elements of that Report were implemented through enactment of the Personal Insolvency Act 2012.
The new Bill seeks to implement further recommendations of the Report aimed at enforcement and recovery of debts which could be developed to streamline the existing enforcement procedures. Under the proposed Civil Debt (Procedures) Bill, creditors may apply to the court for an order enabling either attachment of earnings or deductions from social welfare payments, as appropriate, for the purpose of enforcement of debts to which the legislation will apply. Attachment of earnings would arise where a court orders the debtor’s employer to deduct specified sums from the debtor’s earnings to pay over to the creditor. Deduction from social welfare payments would arise where the court orders the Department of Social Protection to deduct specified sums from the debtor’s social welfare payments to pay over to the creditor. However, these provisions will be subject to a number of safeguards for debtors and will have regard to the debtor's capacity to repay the amount owed.
Importantly, the Bill will also make provision to provide for the abolition of imprisonment of debtors except in the case of maintenance arising from family law proceedings. This implements one of the key recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in this area. Under existing law, arrest and imprisonment remains a possibility as an enforcement mechanism of last resort in cases where a creditor has proved beyond all reasonable doubt the judgment debtor has failed to comply with an instalment order due to his or her wilful refusal or culpable neglect. The proposed Bill removes this possibility for the vast majority of debtors.