Released every month our debt collection blog contains news, stories and tips to keep you informed.
In a recent matter before the Supreme Court in Victoria a Creditors Statutory Demand has been set aside by the Court on the basis that the demand was incorrectly addressed.
By way of background the Plaintiff, Mills Oakley, commenced proceedings against the Defendant, Assets HQ Australia, in the District Court in NSW and obtained a Judgment in October 2018. A Statutory Demand was issued in respect of the debt for $158,905.67 which remained unpaid. Pursuant to s459C(2)(a) of the Corporations Act a company is presumed to be insolvent if it has failed to satisfy a Statutory Demand within 21 days of service being effected.
In the proceedings Mills Oakley v Asset HQ Australia Pty Ltd  VSC 98, the Plaintiff relied on non-payment as a presumption of insolvency and commenced wind-up proceedings in the Supreme Court however Solicitors for Asset HQ Australia argued that there was insufficient evidence of the Statutory Demand being served. The basis of this argument focused around:
Case Study - Unfair Financial Difficulty Policies
Issue: There were concerns that a bank's financial difficulty policies and procedures for its home loans were not compliant with section 72 of the National Credit Code (NCC), clause 28 of the Code of Banking Practice (CBP), and the AFCA Approach to Financial Difficulty.
The financial firm’s hardship policies prevented it from offering hardship solutions if a customer had been in long term financial difficulty and had previously failed to adhere to hardship agreements, or where the period of delinquency was significant. This means the financial firm refused to consider options such as a serviceability test followed by a capping arrangement, and instead focused on alternative repayment options which were unaffordable in light of the circumstances.
Outcome: Following our identification of the issue, the financial firm updated its hardship policy to offer more sustainable solutions. This included having practical discussions with customers experiencing financial difficulty to assist them to overcome their hardship.
The firm also offered capping arrangements for investment properties on a case by case basis. Training was provided to the firm’s hardship team to ensure that the updated policies were implemented correctly.
Application: Policies should not automatically exclude a customer from receiving hardship solutions due to long term hardship and issues such as high arrears or long periods of delinquency. Instead, financial firms should assess each request for assistance on an individual basis, and place an emphasis on the customer demonstrating their ability to service the loan.
If a customer has a positive change in circumstances that allows them to restart payments on a loan, they could be offered a repayment trial followed by capitalisation of arrears – the repayment trial could be the usual minimum monthly payment (MMP), interest only payments or loan term extension with reduced MMP.
Alternatively, if the customer has received hardship assistance over an extended period and they are still unable to meet the repayment schedule, then it may be appropriate to decline further hardship assistance, but instead consider other options such as a timeframe to permit the asset to be sold to repay the debt.
It is being reported by Equifax that the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has provided a view that all defaults will now be recorded as a paid status regardless of whether the debt is paid or settled.
Previously Creditors had the opportunity to record a debt as being settled where a reduced amount was accepted however the OAIC has advised Equifax that by 15/02/2019 all existing accounts listed with an "S" code (settled) must be converted to a "P" code (paid). Default informaiton also being submitted by IQ Connect, XML or Data Enrichment Systems by Creditors will also need need to follow the new definition of a paid default.
It's a question that is often asked and something that we have covered before in our article Recording Payment Defaults however is there a time-limit on when a credit provider can list a payment default?
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) states in their Privacy Fact Sheet 35: When Can a Default Be Included in Your Credit Report -
Yes, a credit provider cannot wait more than 90 days after issuing you with the second notice to list the default.
If the credit provider does not disclose the default to a CRB within that 90 day period, it must send you another notice informing you of its intention to list the default. The credit provider must then wait at least another 14 days before disclosing the default to a CRB for inclusion in your consumer credit report.
You can find the answer to this question and more by visting the OAIC fact sheets page here.
You may take it for granted that when a Default Notice is issued that the customer receives the Notice however what would happen if legal action was commenced and the customer defended the action based on not having been issued with a Default Notice? Would you be able to prove service?
The ability to swear an Affidavit that meets the Courts requirements is paramount in having any such Defence struck-out with the Supreme Court repeatedly ruling that where service is effected by post several elements must be proven. These elements include:
Recently Dr Beynon said that she had new clients come in with a dog that required treatment however was undecided if she should commence treatment or not. Dr Beynon said that while her professional judgement said to treat the animal her business owner experience told her that they couldn't afford to.
While Dr Beynon was able to eventually authorise the treatment through financial assistance she said in a statement, "What I’ve tried to explain to people in the past ... is that what a vet charges is not always related to the quality of the work that they do. I guess I would say ... if you go into a veterinary practice and you request veterinary care, and you promise to pay something and then you don’t do it, you’re not taking away someone’s holiday to Fiji or a fancy piece of jewellery. That might mean they can’t pay their kids school fees that week. They might not be able to pay the drug bill that week. They’re not getting away with something – they’re essentially stealing from someone. Perhaps if more people gave more thought to the families behind the building and the impact it has, then perhaps they might question their own motives a bit more."
You may recall that in our June 2018 edition we published a blog ASIC Warns Consumers About Credit Repair Services. The article focused on a campaign being run by ASIC that was designed to inform consumers of the high level of fees charged by credit repair and debt relief firms. This month the Consumer Action Law Centre (CAL) has released an article, "Stop Debt Vultures", again highlighting the need for regulatory oversight of this industry.
As indicated in the article the credit repair and debt management firms operate outside of any regulatory licensing with no minimum requirements for competency, ethical standards or licensing. The reality of the situation is that anyone, regardless of their level of education, character or background, can start a credit repair business. In a statement to the media Gerard Brody, CEO of the CAL said, "The promise of fixing your debt worries and getting you back on track just doesn’t live up to reality in our experience. The fact is they can charge hidden and high fees, they can mislead about what it is they can do, and leave people in further debt."
With Australian household personal debt being one of the largest in the world, the CAL are asking that ASIC create a robust regulatory framework to ensure that credit repair and debt relief firms are held to a higher standard.
We will continue to monitor developments in this area.
With the Government set to adopt all 76 changes recommended by the Royal Commission into Misconduct in Banking, including amending the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) Rules to accept disputes dating back to January 2008, it appears as though farmers will also benefit with the Commissioner calling for a national farm debt mediation scheme.
Both The Weekly Times and Beef Central are reporting that the Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has indicated that the Government would look at introducing a new farm debt mediation scheme which would require financiers not to charge default interest on agricultural loans in areas considered in drought or impacted by a declared natural disaster. Financiers would also be required to ensure that only those experienced in agriculture would manage distressed farm loans.
In the original interim report released by Commissioner Hayne he commented, "Properly used, however, mediation may allow the lender and the borrower to agree upon practical measures that will, or may, lead to the borrower working out of the financial difficulties that have caused the lender to treat the loan as distressed. Ordinarily, then, I consider that lenders should offer farm debt mediation as soon as the loan is classified as distressed. If used in conjunction with rural financial counselling services, early farm debt mediation should allow wider and better choices for the lender and borrower about servicing, and ultimately repaying the loan."
Fiona Simson, President of the National Farmers' Federation said, "The Royal Commission shone a bright light on Australia's banking sector, on which Australian farmers are heavily dependent. Justice Hayne's recommendations and the Government's affirmative response, has recognised the unique situations farm businesses often face and the always unequal playing field when negotiating with the big banks."
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, released a statement on his website which you can read here.
Following the final report from the Royal Commission into Misconduct in Banking it has been revealed that the Government is proposing a change to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) Rules which will allow them to deal with disputes dating back to January 2008.
The proposed change would see AFCA being able to investigate disputes about misconduct that have not been dealt with previously by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) or by the Courts. AFCA has indicated in a media release that consumers and small businesses will soon be provided with information as to the complaints procedure however confirmed that until such as time as the Rules are changed that they cannot consider such disputes.
In a statement to the media AFCA Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman, David Locke, said, "The announcement from the Government today that AFCA will now be able to consider some of the legacy disputes excluded by the predecessor schemes going back to 1 January 2008, means that many more people will be able to get access to justice and have their matters properly considered. This is a really positive step for consumers and we will be issuing guidance shortly to assist people to bring these disputes to us."
AFCA has also publicly welcomed the Commissioner's recommendation in relation to s912A of the Corporations Act 2001 which will see AFSL holders being required to take reasonable steps to cooperate with AFCA to resolve disputes and release documents.