A Next Step in Debt Enforcement: the Merger of Debt Help and Debt Collection
Since the 1990s, each Member State of the European Union designed a policy that infused the liberal American fresh start policy into its own social institutions and legal culture. Especially in countries with a civil law tradition, the legal position of the consumer has improved. The paradigm of lifelong liability of debts has been replaced by a form of limited liability. Discharge of debts has established itself as a firm legal principle in all European jurisdictions. In most European countries, the new approach consists of a combination of legal and extrajudicial instruments. Under the umbrella of the courts, social workers, trustees, and administrators perform a broad range of activities in monitoring and helping debtors. The so-called new-chance approach has dramatically changed the playing field amongst debtors and creditors. The new legal equilibrium worked rather well in most European countries in the 1990s and 2000s. However, the systems are obviously far from perfect as almost all European governments are still fine-tuning their laws. Recently, two innovations have appeared on the European stage: Some Nordic countries have opted for a centralized state-controlled enforcement system, while in the UK, commercial debt management plans were developed, mainly by commercial suppliers. In 2005, the US Bankruptcy Code was changed in favour of the creditors. The 2008 credit crunch and its aftermath present a window of opportunity for the next step in the modernization of debt enforcement policy. I will suggest a merger of the fields of debt relief and debt collection, with a pivotal role for independent trustees. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012
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