The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) have launched 'Dealing with debt collectors: Your rights and responsibilities' a free guide that helps consumers in trouble with debt understand their options so they know how to deal with collectors and creditors.
The consumer guide explains:
- people's legal rights and responsibilities if they owe a debt
- where to seek help to work out a budget, negotiate a repayment plan, apply for hardship or better understand their financial and legal options
- what to do if a debt collector contacts them
- what sort of behaviour by debt collectors is not acceptable
- how to dispute an alleged debt or its amount
- what to do if they are being taken to court.
'Dealing with debt collectors' also summarises how and when debt collectors can contact someone and provides examples of inappropriate behaviour by debt collectors.
"If consumers are having problems repaying their debts, it's important to take action without delay. This free guide explains the options available to consumers to help them cope with the situation and hopefully get back on track", said ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell.
"The ACCC and ASIC encourage consumer advocacy groups and financial counsellors to refer consumers to the booklet to help them understand their legal rights and responsibilities if they owe a debt", added Mr Kell.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said: “It is important for consumers to be aware of their rights when dealing with debt collectors and to know how to complain.
The ACCC and ASIC continue to receive complaints about the behaviour of some debt collectors and creditors. Consumers should expect to be treated professionally and in a manner that complies with Commonwealth consumer protection laws.
“Where creditors or collectors disregard consumer protection laws and the rights of consumers, we will consider appropriate enforcement action against them”, added Ms Rickard.
'Dealing with debt collectors: Your rights and responsibilities' is available on the ACCC website or can be downloaded from ASIC's MoneySmart website.
In November 2013, the ACCC prosecuted a company ‘Excite Mobile Pty Ltd’, for engaging in false, misleading and unconscionable telemarketing practices, and using undue coercion in relation to debt collection. The Federal Court ordered the company to pay a penalty of $455,000 and the company’s two directors were ordered to pay penalties totaling $95,000 between them.
In 2011, ASIC commenced proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against one of Australia’s largest debt collection companies. In 2012, the Court found ACM Group Limited had harassed and coerced debtors and engaged in 'widespread' and 'systemic' misleading and deceptive conduct when recovering money.
In July 2014,the ACCC and ASIC updated their industry guidance ‘Debt collection guideline for creditors and collectors’ to reflect significant changes to the law, such as the introduction of the Australian Consumer Law in 2011 and changes to privacy laws in Australia. This industry guidance provides information and case studies for creditors and debt collectors about:
- when it is appropriate to contact a debtor, including what constitutes contact and reasonable contact hours, methods or frequency of contact
- how the need for collection activity will be greatly reduced when debtors act promptly and responsibly, and collectors are flexible, fair and realistic
- hew communication technologies developed since the initial publication, including the use of social media platforms and auto dialers, and the potential pitfalls to avoid in using such technologies
- key considerations when resolving debtor complaints and disputes.
ASIC's MoneySmart website
ASIC's MoneySmart website has comprehensive and impartial information and tools for consumers about all aspects of personal finance, including managing loans and credit.
Debt collection industry research
The ACCC is also undertaking a research project into the debt collection industry to examine a number of concerns about debt collection practices.
The research is intended to inform the ACCC’s understanding of how the industry operates, in particular, the business models adopted in the industry and the influence this may have on activities that take place when collecting debts from consumers. The findings from the research will inform future initiatives designed to address the problems or issues identified.
It is expected that a research report will be issued in mid-2015.
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