Dealing with debt collectors

Important information relating to COVID-19

Since 25 March 2020 new rules have been in place to provide temporary debt relief for financially distressed individuals and businesses due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

If you are dealing with a debt collector, you have protections under the Australian Consumer Law. A debt collector must not mislead, harass, coerce or act unconscionably towards you.

What is a debt collector?

A debt collector is a person who collects debts on behalf of a business.

This could be:

  • a creditor collecting a debt themselves (this includes ‘assignees’–people or businesses who have been sold or ‘assigned’ a debt by the original creditor)
  • someone on behalf of the creditor (for example, an independent collection agency).

If a debt collector contacts you about a legitimate debt, be cooperative but also expect to be treated professionally.

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)
  • 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.

Being contacted about a debt

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:

  • a maximum of three phone calls or letters per week (or 10 per month)
  • phone contact only between the hours of 7:30am–9:00pm on weekdays and 9:00am–9:00pm on weekends
  • face-to-face contact only between the hours of 9:00am–9:00pm on weekdays and weekends
  • no contact on national public holidays.

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.

More information

Dealing with debt collectors: your rights & responsibilities
Debt collection guideline for collectors and creditors