At the national level, the status of debt advice is as follows:
(i) Under Regulation 21/1992 on consumer protection, consumer associations can be established as NGO`s. Consumer associations have a purpose to protect the rights of their members or consumers in general and are entitled to carry out activities for the benefit of consumers. These activities include providing information, recommendations, and advice regarding various products and services. This is the legal framework that allows consumer associations to provide debt advice. In Romania, there is a lack of development of consumer associations. They are rare and not very active. Consumer associations have initiated and developed only a few projects related to consumer information and advice. Most of them are carried out online.
Therefore, a solution for the future to develop activities within consumer associations is to establish Consumer Centers that would provide debt advice. These operate under the supervision of National Authority of Consumer Protection- NACP. Consumer Centers can receive financing only if they meet certain criteria. Funding needs to be consistent and long- term to ensure the continuity of the debt advice services. Furthermore, NACP evaluates and selects Consumer Centers for financing. Consumer Centers can carry out projects financed either from the state budget through NACP or from local budgets through local authorities. Access to financing is complicated. In its 2021 report, NACP indicates as a top priority the need to develop Consumer Centers and to ensure that they function properly. (see https://anpc.ro/wp- content/uploads/2022/06/RAPORT_ANPC_2021.pdf, p.36.)
(ii) Law 292 of 2011 establishes the legal framework for providing social assistance at local and national level. This regulation doesn’t include any reference to debt advice services. Social assistance authorities provide counselling to people in need, but not actual debt advice. That doesn’t make sense because people living in poverty struggle with debt the most. This category of vulnerable people includes those with disabilities, those with addictions, single parents, vulnerable elders, the socially excluded, and young adults recently out of state institutions. They would trust the advice from social assistance staff, but these professionals don’t have the competence to provide this kind of counselling. Furthermore, there is a lack of professional standards for debt advisers, in general. In fact, the profession of debt adviser doesn’t officially exist in Romania. A systemic gap can be observed in the field of social assistance. Debt advice must be a component of the social assistance system. However, at the moment, this kind of advice is a great unknown. (Internet sources for writing this material were consulted between 26- 30.12.2022)
PhD.Rodica Diana Apan
President ARD Association for Consumer Advice in Financial Services