Debt collection guideline: for collectors and creditors

3. What is 'contact'?

  1. ‘Contact’ with the debtor or other person is interpreted widely. It includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    • Communications by phone—including circumstances where the recipient (debtor or other person) elects to terminate the call, or where a voice message is left on a recording device, or where a message of any kind is delivered to the recipient (for example, text message).
    • Communications in writing—including all written correspondence (for example, letter, email, text message, fax, social media application or program, instant chat, phone application, or any other similar device).
    • Communications in person—including face-to-face contact, whether at the home of the debtor (or other person), workplace, or other location.

Example: Contact

‘Contact’ will be made if you phone a debtor and the debtor answers the call but shortly after terminates the call. If you phone again and leave a message on the debtor’s voice mail, then you will have made two separate contacts with the debtor.

Example: Multiple contacts

If you phone a debtor and leave a message on the debtor’s voice mail, and you also send the debtor an email, and a text message, then you will have made three separate contacts with the debtor.

  1. ‘Continuous contact’ with the debtor or other person refers to a chain of contact (for example, an email chain) wherein a series of communications all form part of a single ‘thread’ of communication. Depending on the circumstances, such a thread may be treated as a single contact, provided:
    • the consumer is voluntarily engaging in the exchange and has not expressed any dissatisfaction in relation to the continuing contact
    • the consumer has not been prompted by the collector for a response but instead has engaged in an interchange of communication whereby the parties take turns to initiate contact between the parties
    • the communication is within a ‘reasonable proximity of time’
    • the communication is in relation to the same matter, and
    • the communication is likely to be anticipated by the debtor or other person.

Example: Continuous contact

If you email a debtor regarding an account (contact), and the debtor replies offering a payment arrangement, then the subsequent reply to the offer would not be considered a new contact if it occurs promptly and if the debtor would have anticipated a reply (same contact).

  1. We consider a ‘reasonable proximity of time’ to be where no more than two business days pass between such communications and therefore may be part of the one contact.
  2. A single continuous contact may also involve a series of instantaneous communications (that is, a closed chat forum between the debtor and collector, pop-up message or same-time service).
  3. Contact should be distinguished from ‘attempted contact’, which as it implies, falls short of making contact with the debtor or other person, as described above.

Example: Attempted contact

If you phone a debtor (or other person) but the call is unanswered and you do not leave a message on voice mail, this is regarded as attempted contact with the debtor (or other person), and will not constitute a contact with either party.

  1. Attempted contact should be distinguished from an ‘unsuccessful contact’. Unsuccessful contact includes a phone call to a disconnected number or an email that bounces and is not delivered to any recipient.
  2. The distinction between contact and attempted contact should not be construed by you as an opportunity to continually attempt to contact a debtor. Depending on the circumstances, continually attempting to contact a debtor (or other person) may amount to undue harassment (see part 2, section 5, Frequency of contact and Part 3, Commonwealth consumer protection laws).

Example: Unnecessary and unduly frequent attempted contacts

If you phone a debtor and the debtor answers the call but subsequently terminates the call (contact), and then you proceed to repeatedly phone the debtor throughout the same day despite the debtor not answering the calls (attempted contact), this may amount to unnecessary and unduly frequent attempted contacts and could constitute undue harassment.