In July 2014, Australian Security Investments Commission (ASIC) and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) jointly released a publication entitled “Debt Collection Guideline: for collectors and creditors” (the Guideline). The Guideline is a timely reminder to Owners Corporations that certain practices must be observed when chasing a recalcitrant debtor for non-payment of levies.
Respect thy debtor
Owners Corporations should ensure any communications with the debtor regarding unpaid levies are made in an appropriate manner and with the debtor only. Owners Corporations should:
- Ensure contact addresses (e.g. postal address, email address) are current prior to revealing details of the debt by that medium
- Avoid contacting the debtor at the workplace where possible
- Not broadcast details of the debt to tenants, co-workers, family or friends of the debtor
- Respect the debtor and avoid using discriminatory, aggressive or threatening language and/or behaviour towards the debtor
Failure to respect the privacy of the debtor can constitute a breach of the Privacy Act and end up causing more problems for the Owners Corporation. Similarly, aggressive language or unnecessarily frequent contact may be perceived as harassment or coercion.
Documentation is key
Owners Corporations should maintain accurate records in respect of their correspondence and/or attempted communication with the debtor. Records should include:
- The date, time and location of any discussion, including the names of people present
- The exact terms of any payment proposal or settlement discussion
- The date(s) and method(s) by which instalment payments are made to reduce the debt
Honesty is the best policy
Misleading a debtor as to the creditor’s intentions or misrepresenting the potential consequences of non-payment of a debt can constitute misleading conduct and breach Commonwealth consumer protection laws. If a lot owner disputes the debt, Owners Corporations should obtain legal advice.
For assistance with recovering unpaid levies or for more information on debt recovery services, please contact Kerin Benson Lawyers.
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