Removing obstacles to Direct Debit bulk changes: action by the regulator
The UK’s Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) has just announced a public consultation on whether Bacs should be required to change its Direct Debit rules.
Currently, organisations not sponsored by a Bacs member can use Direct Debit providers/bureaus to maintain Direct Debit payments on their behalf. This includes providers that manage the money flows, as well as the setting up of the Direct Debits themselves (known as FM providers, of which GoCardless is one).
Under current rules, an organisation can request that an outgoing FM provider transfers over all existing Direct Debit mandates to a new provider, known as the bulk change process, but the outgoing FM provider is under no obligation to meet that request.
After almost two years of lobbying, our regulator (the PSR, part of the FCA) has drawn a number of preliminary conclusions, and has set out its intention to require Bacs to implement a rule change. This will ensure bulk changes can’t be blocked by outgoing providers.
Why are bulk changes refused?
Some Direct Debit providers won’t allow their customers to bulk change to GoCardless - for no good reason. This is bad for merchants, their customers, and the industry as a whole. Since late 2015, our legal team, armed with evidence and insights from our customers and support team, has been working hard to bring this unfair and anti-competitive practice to an end.
PSR public consultation
GoCardless initially raised the issue with the aforementioned providers, but with no luck. Having pursued the issue as far as possible with our sponsor bank, and Bacs themselves, we turned to the regulator. We first wrote to the Payment Systems Regulator in early 2016, setting out the issue, and our view of the impact on the payments ecosystem. That was followed by a series of meetings with the PSR and consultations by Bacs.
The PSR can require Bacs to implement a change to the scheme rules if it deems a change necessary to further the PSR's purposes: to promote the interests of users, to promote competition, and to promote innovation.
Therefore, following our meetings, we wrote a second letter to the PSR, asking them to consider requiring Bacs to implement a new rule for the Direct Debit scheme. This would make using the bulk change process mandatory if requested by the incoming Direct Debit provider, and the FM provider client (i.e. the merchant).
Changing the rules around switching
The result of this is the PSR's public consultation on switching Direct Debit FM provider. In summary, the PSR has provisionally agreed that the current regulations are unfair and inappropriate, and is looking to require Bacs to change the rules. This change will require existing Direct Debit FM provider to use the bulk change process unless certain exceptions apply.
We would urge all affected businesses, customers and Direct Debit providers to read and respond to the consultation. If you as a merchant experience any issues when trying to switch away from your current Direct Debit provider, please contact the PSR here.
"We believe that every business should be able to choose and move between payment providers freely. In fact, a process to enable efficient switching has existed for some time,” said our head of legal, Ahmed Badr.
“Unfortunately, we’ve encountered multiple instances of Direct Debit providers exploiting a loophole in the scheme rules that allows them to effectively prevent clients switching to a new provider.” he continued.
“This leaves clients stuck using a less than ideal service against their will, stifling competition and innovation in the process.
"At GoCardless, we see no justification for these exploitative practices and fundamentally believe they shouldn’t be allowed. In 2017, business customers expect the same choice and freedom of movement as they have in their personal banking lives.
"We took this issue up with the PSR almost two years ago, so are happy to see them publishing a public consultation. We urge all affected businesses, customers and direct debit providers to read and respond to it."
We commit in our Merchant Agreement, and have done for some time, to helping you - our customers, switch providers, including through the use of the bulk change process, if you choose to do so. We're confident you won't want to.