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If you are being chased by a debt collector for money you owe to a business, you may be wondering at what point their behaviour becomes unlawful. If you think you are being harassed by a debt collector, there are steps you can take. This article will set out:

  • the legal limits debt collectors must comply with;
  • how to deal with debt collectors; and 
  • what options you have if you think the debt collector has gone too far.

What Is a Debt Collector?

A debt collector is any person collecting debts on behalf of another person or business. They may be:

  • an employee of the business you owe money to;
  • a specialist debt collection agency; or 
  • a person or business that has been ‘assigned’ the debt or has bought the debt from the original business you owed money to. 

What Are Debt Collectors Allowed to Do? 

Debt collectors must act reasonably and honestly. They should also be professional and courteous at all times. They should only make contact for a ‘reasonable purpose’, such as: 

  • making a demand for payment;
  • making arrangements for payment;
  • finding out why you have not met an agreed repayment plan; or
  • reviewing a repayment plan after an agreed period of time. 

Debt collectors can contact people outside business hours or on weekends, but all contact must be reasonable. 

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) guidelines, debt collectors can make: 

  • a maximum of three phone calls or letters a week (or 10 per month); 
  • phone contact only between 7.30am and 9pm on weekdays, 9am and 9pm on weekends; and
  • face-to-face contact only between the hours of 9am and 9pm on weekdays and weekends. 

What Behaviour Is Against the Law? 

Some behaviour by debt collectors is against the law. This includes: 

  • using physical force or threats to force you to do something;
  • undue harassment;
  • misleading or deceptive conduct (e.g. telling you that court action will be taken if that is not true); 
  • unconscionable conduct (e.g. taking advantage of any vulnerability or disability affecting you); 
  • refusing to leave your home or workplace when asked; and
  • disclosing information about the debt to other people without your consent.

These rules apply when debt collectors are dealing with you, but also when dealing with your spouse, partner, family member or anyone else connected with you. 

How Should I Deal With Debt Collectors? 

If you are contacted by a debt collector, you should: 

  1. confirm the debt (i.e. ask the debt collector to provide invoices or other documents that confirm you owe the debt); 
  2. deal with the debt: (i.e. make arrangements to pay the debt. If you cannot afford to pay it in full, offer payment by instalments or a reduced payment amount); 
  3. be courteous (i.e. be polite and calm with the debt collector);
  4. control the contact (i.e. tell the debt collector if you do not want them to contact you at certain times or locations, such as your workplace, and give them alternate options); and 
  5. get representation (i.e. consider getting a lawyer or other professional such as financial counsellor to act on your behalf).

How Can I Make a Complaint Against a Debt Collector?

If you feel that a debt collector’s behaviour is unlawful in some way, you can make a complaint in several ways. For example, you can: 

  • contact the police if the debt collector assaults you or threatens violence; 
  • make a consumer complaint to the ACCC; 
  • make a claim at a tribunal like the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT); or
  • make a complaint to the relevant ombudsman service if the debt collector is acting for a certain type of business (e.g. the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman if the debt collector is acting for a telecommunications company). 

Key Takeaways:

Although dealing with debt collectors can be unpleasant, you do have rights when it comes to their behaviour. Be aware of what is lawful behaviour for debt collectors and speak up if you feel their conduct breaks those rules in any way. If you are unsure, contact a lawyer or financial counselling service to help you deal with the debt collector and make arrangements to pay off any debts that you owe. If you have any questions about the debt collection process or paying a debt, contact LegalVision’s debt recovery lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 

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