What is a debt collector?
A debt collector can be a person from a credit or service provider or from a debt collection agency.
If you have not responded to previous attempts to contact you, or not kept to an agreed repayment plan, a debt collector can contact you to find out why.
Debt collectors can contact you by phone, letter, email, social media or by visiting you in person.
What protection does the law give me in relation to debt collection?
Debt collectors must obey the law when recovering debts.
This means they must not:
- use physical force or coercion towards you, or a third party such as your family or friends
- harass you to an unreasonable extent (for example, phone calls day and night at work and home)
- mislead or deceive you, or try to do so (for example, sending letters that look like court documents; saying that unpaid debts are a criminal offence involving the police or possibly jail)
- take unfair advantage of any vulnerability, disability or other similar circumstance affecting you (this is an example of unconscionable behaviour).
There are restrictions on the times debt collectors can contact you.
You do not have to let a debt collector into your home. If you do agree to let them in, they must leave if you ask them to. Generally, visits to your home or workplace should only be made if there is no other way for the debt collector to contact you or if you have asked for or agreed to a visit.
When can I make a complaint about debt collectors?
You have the right to make a complaint if you are being:
- intimidated, or
- taken advantage of,
by a debt collector.
You can report an assault or threats of violence to the police.
Where to complain about debt collectors
If you think a debt collector has disobeyed the law (for example, by harassing you), write down what happened, the dates and times it took place, and the names of the people involved.
Make your complaint clear to the debt collector. Explain that this contact is not acceptable and that any more communication must be in writing. If possible, make your complaint in writing. Follow this up with a letter or email to the person in the debt collection agency who is in charge of complaints, if there is one. Keep a copy of the letter or email for your records.
If this does not resolve the matter, you can make a complaint about a debt collector's behaviour to an external body, such as:
- An industry dispute resolution scheme (such as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority or the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) if the debt collector is a member of the scheme. Most lenders will be members of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. If your debt collector has bought the debt from the lender, it will also be required to be a member of the scheme.
- The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for unacceptable behaviour by debt collectors that is serious or ongoing relating to phone or utility bills, tradespeople or other service providers.
- The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) for unacceptable behaviour that is serious or ongoing for debts relating to loans, credit cards or other financial services.
- The Financial Rights Legal Service has information on bodies you can complain to Their website also generates a letter to help you make a complaint.
- The ASIC MoneySmart website Dealing with debt collectors has more detailed information on what debt collectors can and can’t do.
Reviewed: 20 September 2022