Creditors are calling me every day. What are my rights?
If you are contacted by a debt collector, you should be cooperative and try to resolve the issue to the best of your abilities. If you have borrowed money, bought something with finance, have a loan or a credit card debt or owe money for bills or accounts, you have a legal responsibility to repay the money you owe.
However you should expect to be treated in a professional and courteous manner. Debt collectors are subject to laws and regulations that govern their behaviour. If debt collectors breech these regulations their behaviour might be regarded as harassment or even unlawful.
How often can a creditor contact me?
Debt collectors should limit their contact to a maximum of 3 phone calls or letters per week (or 10 per month) unless you give them permission to do otherwise. Collectors should only contact you by phone between the hours of 7:30 am–9:00 pm on weekdays and 9:00 am–9:00 pm on weekends and make no contact on national public holidays.
Can creditors contact me at work?
Typically a debt collector should not contact you through your workplace unless you request them to, or if you haven’t given them any other effective way to contact you. If a debt collector does contact you at work, they must not reveal information about your financial situation to others. A debt collector should only visit you at your workplace as a last resort. If they do so they are obligated to take extra care to avoid breaching your privacy and must:
- under no circumstances reveal to a third party, whether directly or indirectly, that the visit is in connection with a debt.
- under no circumstances discuss the debt in front of co-workers
- leave immediately if, at any time, you are asked to do so by the debtor or another person.
In the case of consumer credit such as home loans, personal loans, credit cards, car loans and consumer loans, you may have a right to seek a ‘hardship variation’. This is a formal process where you ask your credit provider to ‘vary’ the terms of your loan contract.
Don’t give up if a creditor or debt collector tells you they will not accept a repayment plan. Put your situation in writing and tell them how much you can afford to pay, and how often. Meanwhile, you should keep making payments at the level you can afford. Don’t be pushed to make promises you won’t be able to keep.
If you are contacted about a debt you do not owe (or if you disagree with the amount of the debt being claimed), you have a right to dispute the debt or the amount of the debt.
You might accept that you owe the debt but disagree with (or are unsure about) the amount claimed. If this is the case, ask for an itemised statement of your account that clearly sets out: the amount and date of the alleged debt, how it is calculated and the details of all payments made and all amounts owing (including principal, interest, fees and charges).
Unacceptable behaviour by debt collectors
Debt collectors are subject to rules and regulations that govern their behaviour. Here is a list of actions that constitute unacceptable behaviour from a debt collector:
- contact you more than necessary or at unreasonable times
- shout at or verbally abuse you (including making personal or demeaning comments)
- use obscene or racist language
- intentionally try to embarrass or humiliate you or any third party
- insist that you agree to a repayment plan that you cannot afford
- Pressure you to borrow money from family, friends or a lender
- talk to your child (under the age of 18) about the debt (unless you allow this or the child is willing and able to act as a translator or intermediary)
- use or threaten force of any kind towards you, any member of your family or any other person connected with you
- damage or threaten to damage your property
- block access to your property, or block your way
- enter your property when you have refused permission, or fail to leave when you ask them to
- make false statements about the amount you owe
- make false statements about what will happen if the debt is not paid or what they intend to do (e.g. repossess your car)
- send letters demanding payment that are designed to look like court documents
- pretend to be (or to act for) a solicitor, court or government body
Fox Symes is the largest provider of debt solutions to individuals and businesses in Australia. Fox Symes helps over 100,000 Australians each year resolve their debt and take financial control.
If you are in debt and want to know more about the solutions available to you contact us on 1300 098 127.