Debt collection

Debt collection

A debt collection agency is employed by a creditor to recover overdue debts. Creditors can even 'sell' debts to debt collection agencies so that the debt collection agency becomes the creditor.

Debt collection must operate in a lawful manner. You have the right to make a complaint if you are being:

  • harassed
  • intimidated
  • taken advantage of.

Debt collection and the law

Debt collectors must obey the law when recovering debts. This means they must not:

  • use physical force or intimidation towards you, any member of your family or anyone associated with you
  • harass you
  • mislead or deceive you, or try to do so – for example, sending letters that look like court documents
  • take unfair advantage of any vulnerability, disability or other similar circumstance affecting you. This is called ‘unconscionable behaviour’.

Harassment

You do not have to accept harassment from creditors or debt collectors. Get help immediately.

The worst tactics include:

  • phone calls, day and night, at work and home
  • calls to your employer, revealing details you might consider private
  • calls to family members, often suggesting that someone not responsible for the debt should pay it
  • intimidation and threats
  • misleading and untrue statements about what might happen to you if you do not pay (e.g. saying that unpaid debts are a criminal offence involving the police or possibly jail)
  • making demands for payment of old debts when the legal limitation period has expired
  • refusing to leave when asked.

Write down what is said to you, the name of the person, date and time. Explain that this contact is not acceptable and that any further communication must be in writing. Follow this up with a letter and keep a copy.

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.

Complaints about debt collectors

If you think a debt collector is harassing you or has disobeyed the law, make your complaint clear to them and also to the person in the debt collection agency who is in charge of complaints, if there is one. If possible, make your complaint in writing. If this does not resolve the matter, you can make a formal complaint about their behaviour.

Consumer Affairs Victoria is responsible for complaints about debt collectors in Victoria. Call the Consumer Affairs Helpline.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) are jointly responsible for Commonwealth laws that protect people from harassment and other illegal debt collection conduct. ASIC deals with misconduct when the debt is with a financial service. ACCC is responsible for all other matters.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with debt and financial issues.