This article is by Victoria Legal Aid, to learn more about their services visit www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
If your client is in debt, they have the right to be protected from illegal behaviour from creditors and debt collectors. They have the right to:
- not be discriminated against
- have their privacy protected
- get help
- question the debt
The right to be treated fairly
Your client has the right not to be harassed or bullied when a creditor or debt collector contacts them. There are very strict guidelines on debt collector behaviour.
The right not to be discriminated against
Discrimination happens when someone is treated unfairly. For example, discrimination towards a race, age or disability. If your client thinks they have been discriminated against, they need to contact the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
The right to have your privacy protected
Your client has the right to privacy. The creditor can collect, store, use or give out information about them but they need to follow the rules set out in the Privacy Act. A creditor cannot contact anyone else about your client’s debt unless they have their written permission.
If your client thinks that their privacy has been violated, they need to complain to the organisation that did it. Your client can also contact an ombudsman. For example, if it is an electricity company that has breached their privacy, then contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman. Your client can also contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
The right to get help
Financial counsellors and other services that deal with debt problems can also help your client. Your client may feel pressured to make a quick decision or to agree to something when a creditor or debt collector contacts them. They have a right to get financial or legal information and advice before signing or agreeing to anything.
The right to question the debt
Your client needs to know they have the right to question the debt. If they do not believe it is their debt, or if they think that the amount is wrong, they can find out for themselves if they are not sure what the creditor says is true.
Some of the reasons your client may want to question a debt are if:
- the debt is not your client’s – for example, if they think someone has fraudulently used their identity
- they have already paid the debt or settled it in some way
- they disagree with or are unsure about the amount being claimed
- they have a valid defence (a legal reason) to not pay the debt.