What debt collectors can & cannot do

If you are dealing with a debt collector, you have protections under the law. A debt collector must not mislead, harass, coerce or act unconscionably towards you. If a debt collector contacts you about a legitimate debt, be cooperative but also expect to be treated professionally.

Temporary debt relief measures ended on 1 January 2021

On 1 January 2021, temporary legislative changes for financially distressed individuals and companies affected by COVID-19 ceased. More information is available here: Debt collection guideline for collectors and creditors.

The ACCC and ASIC administer the Commonwealth laws that protect people from undue harassment and illegal debt collection conduct. You can report unacceptable behaviour that is serious or ongoing to the ACCC or ASIC using information provided at the end of the page.

For debts relating to loans, credit cards, or other financial services, contact ASIC.

For debts relating to goods and services such as phone or utility bills, tradespeople or other service providers, contact the ACCC.

    Legal rights when dealing with debt collectors

    Under the Australian Consumer Law, a debt collector must not:

    • use physical force or coercion (forcing or compelling you to do something)
    • harass or hassle you to an unreasonable extent
    • mislead or deceive you (or try to do so)
    • discuss you debt with someone else without your permission
    • take unfair advantage of any vulnerability, disability or other similar circumstances affecting you (this may amount to unconscionable conduct).

    These laws also apply to a debt collector’s conduct towards your spouse, partner, family member or someone else connected with you.

    Make a formal complaint if a creditor or debt collector misleads you, threatens you or is abusive.

    Case study video

    Owing a debt can be stressful, but it's important to remember your rights. Knowing what debt collectors can, and can't do when trying to resolve a debt, and the steps available to you, can make all the difference.

    The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this video are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

    Being contacted about a debt

    Debt collectors can generally contact you to discuss a debt and to ask for repayment but in doing this they should take your personal and financial situation into account, including your ability to make repayments.

    A debt collector should only contact you when it is necessary to do so and when the contact is made for a reasonable purpose.

    A reasonable purpose includes:

    • making a demand for payment
    • making arrangements for repayment
    • finding out why an agreed repayment plan has not been met
    • reviewing a repayment plan after an agreed period of time
    • inspecting or recovering mortgaged goods (if they have a right to do so).

    As a guide, if contact is necessary, it should be limited (unless you request or agree otherwise) to:

    Contact by telephone

    (max 3 phone calls per week

    or 10 per month)

    Monday to Friday

    Weekends

    National Public Holidays

    7:30 am to 9 pm

    9 am to 9 pm

    No contact recommended

    Face-to-face contact

    Monday to Friday

    Weekends

    National Public Holidays

    7:30 am to 9 pm

    9 am to 9 pm

    No contact recommended

    All workplace contact Debtor's normal working hours if known, or 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays

    Generally, visits to your home (or another agreed location) should only take place if there is no other way the debt collector can make effective contact with you, or if you ask for (or agree to) a visit. If repayment arrangements can be worked out over the phone or by letter, then face-to-face contact should not be necessary.

    Conduct involving assault or threats of violence should be reported to the police.

    Protecting your privacy

    Debt collectors must protect your personal information and the personal information of third parties. Contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner if you believe that a debt collector or creditor has breached privacy laws.

    When to make a complaint about a debt collector

    If debt collectors are in breach of what they can do (outlined above), or you are being harassed or intimidated by a debt collector, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 for free and confidential advice or make a consumer complaint.

    You may also consider making a formal complaint in writing to the debt collector. The Financial Rights Legal Centre has a sample complaint letter template you can use.

    If this does not solve the problem, ask the debt collector if they belong to an external dispute resolution (EDR) scheme. Nearly all financial service, energy, water and telecommunications businesses belong to an EDR scheme that can assist you with dispute resolution.

    More information

    Dealing with debt collectors: your rights responsibilities

    Debt collection guideline for collectors and creditors