A new Code of Conduct is to be formally launched by the Credit Services Association (CSA), the voice of the UK debt collection and debt purchase industries, setting out the best practice standards it expects from members carrying out any form of tracing activity.
The CSA Trace Code of Conduct and Principles of Trace detail a series of actions set around certain key themes including general conduct, sources of data and validation, telephone tracing, field-based tracing, and correspondence activity. It also examines the role of social media sites, reporting and updating records, and the responsibilities of the instructing party.
Jamie McGrath, a special advisor for the CSA, explains that the Principles demand not only strict adherence to the Code, but also the need for trace firms to continually improve their own internal processes: “The aim of this Code of Conduct and the Principles is to reduce trace-related complaints, and other complaints in connection with tracing the wrong individual - often referred to as a ‘mistrace’ (or more accurately a ‘false trace’ as no nefarious activity has taken place) - whilst simultaneously promoting best practice.”
In terms of sources of data, the Code states that each member must validate any confirmed trace by using a minimum of two independent data sources or through direct contact with the subject of the trace.
For telephone activity, the Code makes it clear that while it is acceptable to leave messages with individuals within the same household, it is not acceptable to leave messages with neighbours, neither must a neighbour be alerted to the purpose of the call. Similar principles apply with field-based tracing activity; neighbours are a legitimate source of information, but only in terms of verifying occupancy or when the subject vacated the property. In both cases, the name of the company should be supplied if asked, but it is not compulsory to do so.
In relation to trace correspondence, the Code details ‘appropriate’ correspondence that can be used, including ‘soft’ trace letters and contact cards being sent to the last known address. It confirms that such letters should not contain any detail of the debt but must include the company name and registered address of the sender as well as a contact name and number to comply with other industry and regulatory requirements.
As well as examining the role of the tracing agent, McGrath says that the new Code also makes clear the role of the client (ie the instructing party): “The instructing client has a responsibility, as the data controller, to ensure that data provided at the point of instruction is accurate and up-to-date. If previous tracing activity has been carried out, all information obtained should be shared with the instructed trace agent.”
McGrath says that clients are encouraged to supply as much relevant information as possible: “More information provided at the instruction stage will reduce the risk of possible detriment and provide a higher level of confidence when carrying out tracing activity.”
The CSA Trace Code of Conduct and Principles of Trace were both announced at the CSA Members Only Compliance Meeting in July, and produced with the help of a great number of dedicated individuals within the CSA membership and team. A formal implementation date is expected towards the end of September, after the UK Credit and Collections Conference (UKCCC).
Adherence to the Code will be included within the Declaration of Compliance at renewal or new application stage for CSA membership.