Released every month our debt collection blog contains news, stories and tips to keep you informed.
It is being reported by the Sydney Morning Herald that electoral roll data of more than 16 million Australians is allegedly being used by buy now, pay later providers, betting agencies, marketing firms and debt collectors to identify individual consumers.
Data allegedly obtained from a data marketing company, Illion, allows companies such as Afterpay to match identities to addresses as it processes customers. The data is allegedly being accessed under recent changes to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.
Historically, prior to changes to the way the electoral roll was accessed, the roll was being used by debtor collectors (among others), for the purpose of making enquiries to locate a debtor or verify that a debtor may be residing at an address prior to commencing further action. Changes to the laws prohibited the search of the electoral roll for this very purpose, specifically stating that information contained in the roll is protected information and that such protected information shall not be used for a commercial purpose.
The Australian Electoral Commission would not comment on whether use of the data by the companies involved was appropriate with enquiries being directed to Home Affairs.
In accordance with the Act, LCollect do not access electoral roll data for any commercial purpose and only monitor accounts on legally available search facilities complying with the requirements of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).
You may recall in our August 2018 edition of Debt Collection News that we reported that the Federal Court found against a debt collection company acting for Telstra after proceedings were commenced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC).
It has now been revealed by Yahoo! Finance that the Federal Court has ordered the debt collection agency involved to pay $750,000 in penalties for intimidation and harassment of the 2 customers who collectively owed $8,920.
The debt collection agency involved in the proceedings was ruled last year to have violated Australian Consumer Law after the ACCC commenced legal action in June 2016 where it was alleged that the agency had contacted a stroke victim on more than 40 occasions demanding payment including 20 demands made by letter despite the customer indicating to the agency that he had difficulty in speaking and could only utter single words like "stroke", "no" and "speech" in an attempt to indicate that he was disabled and unable to communicate.
ACCC Commissioner, Sarah Court, said in a statement, ".... continued harassment and intimidation of a care facility resident who had difficulty speaking after suffering multiple strokes is one of the worst cases of unconscionable conduct we have seen in the debt collection sector .... conduct towards another consumer who was in difficult financial circumstances, which included giving false information and making empty threats of court action, was also particularly egregious."
Commissioner Court went on to say, "Unconscionable conduct such as harassment, intimidation and coercion of consumers is unacceptable to not only the ACCC and the court, but the wider community."
A spokeperson for Telstra distanced the company from the proceedings stating, “collection activity is being conducted on behalf of the new owner, not on Telstra’s behalf” and that the telco sells debt to a third party only as a last resort."
It's a question that we come across on a regular basis from our commercial clients and one that is more common than you may think.
Interest is the price (charge) paid for the use of someone else's money. For commercial clients, it is a charge that your clients pay when they don't pay that your invoice by the due date. When they don't pay you on the due date, they are effectively borrowing money from your organisation.
While those in the finance industry often have very well worded Contracts and Terms and Conditions that allow the calculation of an annual percentage rate (APR) many small business owners struggle to understand the requirements and while they understand the practical value of incurring interest they worry about the practicalities of applying additional interest fees or charges to an outstanding account.
The short answer to this question is yes provided your terms and conditions permit it. There are however strict requirements you must meet in order for your claim for interest to be legally collectable, and we would recommend you seek legal advice to ensure your interest charges are recoverable.
A fair and reasonable rate can be difficult to determine however most businesses charge between 5% to 10% per annum. The interest charge should be at a rate that is a genuine estimate of the cost of the late payment to your business (ie your banks overdraft rate). Anything higher than this may not be enforceable.The Local Court of NSW currently prescribes a pre-Judgment interest rate of 5.50%. This rate is 4.00% above the cash rate last published by the Reserve Bank of Australia and is reviewed every 6 months. The current rates can be found at Interest Rates Applicable After 1 July 2010.
Charging interest to a debt can have pros and cons, and is ultimately a commercial decision. Where a customer knows that interest may be charged on an overdue account or invoice it is often incentive enough for them to pay on time. On the other hand you may alienate a particular customer who may take their business elsewhere. While you may offer a better product or service than your competitor, applying interest to a debt could be the very reason you lose business.In a situation like this it is often better to communicate to your customer that their payment is late and granting an extension for payment before charging interest and being flexible enough to agree to waive these charges if a customer can be retained.
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) has provided transition relief for members of the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) who are currently awaiting membership certificates to be issued by the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).
In a statement to the media ASIC said, "ASIC understands that some licensees and credit representatives who are members of the CIO scheme have not yet obtained their membership to the AFCA scheme. ASIC understands that this includes licensees and credit representatives who: have lodged an application with AFCA Ltd, but membership has not yet been approved; and have not yet lodged an application with AFCA Ltd."
The initial deadline for licence holders was Friday, 21 September 2018 however ASIC said it would be giving transitional relief to prevent authorisations from becoming invalid due to circumstances however stressed to representatives affected by the changeover delays that they would only be granted relief as long as they ensure that their membership with CIO is maintained. A representative of ASIC went on to say that, "If you are not a member on 1 November, your authorisation will become invalid, and you will need to cease providing credit activities."
ASIC has recently sent a reminder to all financial services and credit licensees to join AFCA which combines the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman.
Source: TheAdviser - September 2018
A timeshare lender, Future Holiday Finance Pty Ltd (FHF) has recently been pursued by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for breaches of responsible lending practices.
FHF provides finance for the purchase of membership in ULTIQA Lifestyle which is described as a points-based timeshare arrangement with many consumers being approached by employees of FHF providing scratch cards that tells them that they've won a free holiday. After attending a seminar, which is charged at between $20 to $40, consumers were being given the chance to sign-up to a timeshare scheme to enjoy cut-rate prices at major hotels. To be eligble consumers had to agree to enter into a Contract, with what appears to be a cooling-off period of 14 days, and paying between $12,000 to over $25,000 to secure their points and pay an ongoing yearly subscription.
In the action commenced by ASIC it was found that FHF signed consumers up to loans without assessing affordability and a review of the documentation attached to the loan identified potential unfair contract terms.
FHF has been fined and paid a penalty of $135,000 in response to 3 infringement notices and has been ordered to pay up to $3 million in compensation. FHF will also review loans provided to consumers between 01/07/2012 and 30/08/2018 and will provide refunds to customers where the loan was unsuitable. The refund scheme will be overlooked by an indepdent expert who will also assess FHF's compliance with future responsible lending obligations.
In a statement released to the media, ASIC Deputy Chair, Peter Kell, said, "Timeshare finance operators must ensure that they comply with their responsible lending obligations. 'Consumers should always take the time to consider upfront and ongoing costs of timeshare, including finance, given they are a long-term commitment and can be difficult to sell."
Consumers can get more information about the refund scheme by visiting the MoneySmart website.
Source: ASIC Media Centre - August 2018
There has been some anxious times recently for body corporates who have been eagerly awaiting the decision in the Queensland Court of Appeal in Body Corporate for Mount Saint John Industrial Park Community Title Scheme 18632 v Superior Stairs & Joinery Pty Ltd  QCA 173.
In the District Court the Defendant, Superior Stairs & Joinery Pty Ltd (STJ) argued that the action by the Plaintiff, Body Corporate for Mount Saint John Industrial Park Community Title Scheme 18632 (Body Corporate), should be struck out after action was taken for the recovery of unpaid levies, recovery costs and penalty sums on the basis that the proceedings were commenced outside of the limitation period. STJ arguies that the limitation period for bringing body corporate debt recovery action was contained in Section 145 of the Body Corporate and Community Management (Standard Module) Regulation 2008 (QLD) -
Part 4 Payment and Enforcement of Body Corporate Debts
s145 Payment and Recoery of Body Corporate Debts
(1) If a contribution or contribution instalment is not paid by the date for payment, the body corporate may recover each of the following amounts as a debt -
(a): the amount of the contribution or instalment;
(b) any penalty for not paying the contribution or instalment;
(c) any costs (recovery costs) reasonably incurred by the body corporate in recovering the amount.
(2) If the amount of a contribution or contribution instalment has been outstanding for 2 years, the body corporate must, within 2 months from the end of the 2-year period, start proceedings to recover the amount.
STJ successfully argued in the District Court that the time limit for recovery of a debt by the body corporate was 2 years and 2 months pursuant to s145(2) however the Body Corporate submitted at the time that the time limit was 6 years from the date the levy became due and payable pursuant to Section 10 of the Limitations of Actions Act 1974 (QLD).
The District Court agreed with STJ at the time however on appeal, the Court of Appeal, overturned the District Courts decision. In the decision Justice McMurdo, Justice Mullins and Justice Bond stated that the issue raised on appeal was not that of conflicting limitation periods but whether or not s145 prescribes a limitation period. The Justices concluded that s145 is to compel a body corporate to commence proceedings but cannot be interpreted as a limitation period and therefore s10 of the Limitiation of Actions Act is the governing legislation (ie 6 years from the date the contribution becomes outstanding).
A debt collection agency who act for Telstra has lost their case in the Federal Court following proceedings being commenced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
The proceedings, which commenced in June 2016, highlighted the pressure some agencies apply to collect payment including engaging in misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct in it's dealings with 2 particular customers.
The first customer, CT*, who was living in a care facility on a disability support pension, after having suffered 3 strokes, received in excess of 60 demands for payment for a debt of $5,770. The Court found that the agency knew of CT's condition, which left him with the inability to care for himself or readily speak, however called the care facility approximately 40 times and sent approximately 20 demand letters seeking payment. Several times CT was threatended with legal action despite the agency not having any plans to follow through with the threat.
In the other matter a single Victorian mother of three, who worked part time and received a Centrelink payment, was demanded to pay $3,150. It was alleged that the woman was told that legal proceedings would be commenced against her and that a payment default would be recorded. The woman in question promised a payment of 50% of the debt in an attempt to avoid legal proceedings, despite this payment leaving her unable to pay rent and meet her other day-to-day expenses.
The Judgment, which you can read online, also criticises the capitalised use of words in demand letters and the use of “the words 'could' and 'may' would reasonably be read in the light of the prominent heading to the pro forma letter, the terms of which strongly suggest that ACM intended shortly to commence legal proceedings .....".
In a statement to the media the ACCC said that they will be seeking Orders preventing agencies engaging in misleading, deceptive and unconscionable conduct and will be seeking for large fines to be imposed.
Source: itnews - July 2018
* Name noted as per the original Judgment
The Labor party in Victoria has planned a crackdown on debt collection in Victoria if re-elected at the November State election.
news.com.au and radio 3AW 693 are reporting that organised crime groups will be the focus of a planned State Government crackdown on the debt collection industry with Police Minister, Lisa Neville, announcing earlier this month an overhaul of the regulations. In a statement to the media she said, "We'll clean up this industry, like we did with scrap metal - to tackle organised crime and crack down on rogue operators."
The Labor Government, if re-elected, would like to establish a dedicated commission and harsher penalties for those involved in unlicensed debt debt collection in Victoria and would work more closely with the police, Consumer Affairs Victoria and industry leaders to clean-up the industry.
Chief Executive of the Australian Collectors and Debt Buyers, Alan Harriers, said in response, "If they are that [sic] then it's up to Fair Trading to stop them as being illegal persons doing debt collection. I am unaware of any prosecutions against people in this regard. If they were actual proper debt buyers, they would hold an Australian credit licence that is issued by ASIC. It's a very highly regulated industry."
In Victoria there is not a legal requirement in which to hold a debt collection licence.
Cash Converters has again found itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons with ASIC finding that the company failed to meet regulatory guidelines and breaching the ASIC and ACCC Debt Collection Guidelines.
An ASIC investigation found that the pay day lender routinely breached the frequency of contact guidelines of 3 times per week or less than 10 times a month -
5. Frequency of Contact
(c) Unnecessary or unduly frequent contacts may amount to undue harassment of a debtor. We recommend that you do not contact a debtor more than three times per week, or 10 times per month at most (when contact is actually made, as distinct from attempted contact) and only when it is necessary to do so. This recommendation does not apply to face-to-face contact which is specifically addressed below.
The investigation also uncovered that a related company, Safrock Finance Corporation (QLD), was also found to have provided incorrect information to a credit reporting agency. The error resulted in 38,500 customer being reported inaccurate amount owing over a 1 month period. According to ASIC the financier has since worked with Equifax to ensure all incorrect credit listings have been removed.
ASIC has since imposed licence conditions on Cash Converters which includes outsourcing all of their debt recovery to a 3rd party collection agency and must seek consent from ASIC prior to bringing these activities back in-house.
In retribution this time around, Cash Converters has paid $650,000 in community benefits payments to the National Debt Helpline for breaching the Guidelines.
Peter Kell, ASIC Deputy chair, said in a statement to the media, "Consumers expect to be treated fairly and in a manner that complies with consumer protection laws. ASIC expects all financial service providers to have appropriate systems and controls in place to ensure that debt collection practices are consistent with the guidelines. It is also critical that licensees ensure that credit information provided to credit bureaus is accurate."
This is not the first time that Cash Converters has been investigated by ASIC. You may recall that in our May 2017 blog post that Cash Converters were fined and paid $1.35 million in penalties for breaching responsible lending conduct provisions and refunded consumers $10.8 million in fees through a consumer remediation program.
You can download a copy of the ASIC and ACCC Debt Collection Guidelines from their website.
Source: TheAdvisor - May 2018
A former finance broker has appeared before the Perth Magistrates' Court following charges being laid over giving false information and fraud.
ASIC allege that between January 2013 and April 2013 that Peter Lachlan McDonald of "Get Approved Finance" provided Esanda information that falsely represented consumers. In a statement to the media ASIC said, "...between January 2013 and April 2013, Mr McDonald, in the course of brokering four motor vehicle finance contracts, provided the lender Esanda with information that falsely represented that persons, who had in fact only agreed to be loan guarantors, were the applicant borrowers who would ultimately own the vehicle to be financed."
ASIC went on to say that in 1 case Mr McDonald inserted what he "purported" to be a consumers signature on an extended warranty policy and submitted the documents to Esanda.
Following an investigation by ASIC Mr McDonald was permanently banned in July 2015 from engaging in credit activities and providing financial services with a number of Get Approved Finance Brokers also being banned by ASIC for similar actions.
We had previously reported ANZ had been found to have breached responsible lending laws with ANZ, the former owner of Esanda, agreeing to compensate more than 70 borrowers a total of $1.38 million for car loans organised by Get Approved Finance.
Mr McDonald has pleaded guilty to the charges and and was bailed to appear on Thursday, 10 May 2018 for sentencing.