Being chased by a debt collector? Know your rights

Being chased by a debt collector? Know your rights

If you are being harassed or threatened by a debt collector, you don’t have to put up with it.

Whether you owe the debt or not, you have legal rights when it comes to how you should be treated by a debt collector. If they step beyond those boundaries you have the right to make a formal complaint.

Here are four signs that a debt collector is behaving badly.

They turn up at your house or workplace

A debt collector is permitted to contact you by phone, letter, email, social media, or face-to-face. But they must respect your right to privacy. That means they should not talk about your financial information in front of a third party including your family members, friends, co-workers or employees, without your permission.

If they email or contact you via social media they must be reasonably sure that it can only be accessed by you.

Any visit to your house or workplace must be a last resort, only used if they have been unable to contact you via other methods. The visit must be between 9am and 9pm and no more than once a month.

Even then there are laws about how they must behave. If you ask them to leave, they must do so, for instance.

They contact you too frequently

There are other limits on how many times a debt collector can contact you. They must not phone more than three times in a week (or 10 times in a month) and they can only phone between 7.30am and 9pm on weekdays and 9am to 9pm on weekends, unless you give permission for a call outside those hours.

Did you know that they cannot contact you on a national public holiday?

If you are being contacted by a debt collector it is important to keep written notes. Record the date and time of the contact; whether you are contacted by phone, email, social media or face-to-face; the debt collector’s name and company; and what is said. Then if you need to complain about their behaviour you have good records of what has been happening.

Shot of a distressed man talking on his cellphone to a debt collector

They verbally abusive, trespass or threaten you

There are lines that debt collectors must not cross. Threatening you or anyone else with physical force is not on; neither is damaging your property or threatening to damage it. They must not block your access to your property or block your way and if you ask them to leave your property they must do so immediately unless they have a court order.

If you encounter this kind of behaviour you should call the police.

Verbal abuse such as shouting; making personal or derogatory comments; or using racist or obscene language should not be tolerated.

Senior couple at home reacting to many bills

They make false or misleading statements

Some debt collectors may design a letter demanding payment so that it looks like it has come from a court, or they may lead you to believe they are representing a solicitor, court or government organisation. None of that is legal.

Making misleading statements about the consequences of not paying a debt is not permitted. For example, if they tell you that failure to pay a debt will result in the repossession of your car.

If you are concerned about a debt collector’s behaviour contact a financial counsellor or a community legal centre. They can help you make a formal written complaint so that you don’t have to put up with bad behaviour.

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