A debtor may not always have the necessary skills and resources to watch out for his own interests and rights. This should be kept in mind in developing the handling of summary matters regarding undisputed debts.
A working group appointed by the Finnish Ministry of Justice has studied possibilities to speed up the handling of summary matters. These mainly involve undisputed debts in which the debtor fails to respond and are usually resolved by a court on the basis of written materials. The working group's aim is to speed up handling without endangering debtors' legal rights. The Consumer Agency gives the working group credit for carefully considering the position of the debtor despite the pressure to improve efficiency.
The working group's report does not pay sufficient attention to the fact that in summary matters debtors'information level and financial situation are often weaker than those of the average consumer. These people may be overwhelmed by the legal system. They also have more limited possibilities to evaluate the correctness of their debts and seek legal assistance.
Furthermore the working group's report does not adequately consider how to increase consumers'possibilities to react and defend themselves in situations involving the collection of unjustified receivables. The selling of receivables appears to have increased such cases. According to feedback received from consumers, debtors cannot always get mistakes corrected before a matter is taken to court. Once the legal collection of claims begins, debtors easily give up or simply do not know what to do. Attention needs to be drawn to this, because speeding up the handling of matters could increase the number of cases involving unjustified receivables.
Need to minimize risks
According to the working group, one alternative for speeding up the handling of summary matters would be to skip the court process entirely if the debtor expressly consents to this and acknowledges the debt. In this way the debtor would avoid the costs of legal proceedings and private debt collection. The working group admits that the debtor's ignorance could be abused in this model, but it considers the risk small.
The Finnish Consumer Agency takes a more cautious view. It would be easier to convince people to acknowledge unjustified receivables by telling them that they can reduce collection costs in this way. If the model proposed by the working group is applied, debtors should at least be given a clear picture of what acknowledging debts means in practice. Steps should also be taken to ensure that debtors can use sufficient legal means after the fact to ensure their legal rights. This includes situations in which a debtor decides later on that there is something unclear about receivables.
On the other hand the Consumer Agency supports the working group's proposal to reform a debtor's cost responsibility. The working group has proposed that costs collected from a debtor should be based more clearly on the amount of debt and the difficulty of the collection task. This is justified to ensure the fair treatment of debtors. The principle that creditors cannot collect more from consumers than the costs they have actually incurred would also be made clearer.