Tighter regulations on the cards for debt collectors, as Government eyes changes

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RNZ rnz.co.nz

Tighter regulations could be in store for debt collectors, amid concerns about their treatment of people they're chasing for money.

Budgeting services are worried about behaviour they say borders on harassment, and the fees collection companies continue to add on to debts.

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Debt (file picture).

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Nelson Budget Service financial mentor Rosalie Grant said many of the people who come through their doors have debts that have been referred to collectors.

The people who owed money often did not know what was happening and there were no requirements about the information collection companies had to provide, she said.

"You don't generally get a statement to say what payments you've paid already. You'll get, maybe, a statement to say, 'you're in trouble, we're going to send it to collections and you've got seven working days to come up with a plan, otherwise we're going to take further court action'."

Some debt collectors were better than others, but Ms Grant said there needed to be much more regulation.

In particular, borrowers needed proper legal protections against harassment from collection companies.

"[Borrowers] come to us because they're getting hassled a lot, so they'll get texts and phonecalls at all times of the day, sometimes in the night, and multiple times."

There were also privacy concerns. Ms Grant said they were seeing examples of debt collection companies making "judgmental comment" about a person's spending, based on information they were being asked to provide.

"One of our clients was asked to justify all of her spending seen on a bank statement, they said 'why did you need to go to the dairy?', 'what did you spend at the petrol station?'"

Matthew Nutter from debt management company Kiwidebt said there needed to be rules that meant a debt could not grow once it got to a collector.

"The collector, for example, on a $10,000 loan, may add $2500 of collection costs, but also that person will continue to get interest charged on their debt, even though it's considered to be a collection account or a recovery account."

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi said he was worried by some of the stories he had been hearing.

"Unfortunately some people do get themselves into a situation where their debt is passed on to a debt collection agency, and the debt collection agency is tasked with getting that money back. But if they get to the stage where they're taking the mickey out of consumers, I've got a problem with that."

Of most concern was the fees that were being charged, Mr Faafoi said.

"Unreasonable is the problem. The ability of some companies just to say, one phonecall that might last a minute or might not even be answered, and you can add $25 on to a debt is unreasonable."

Mr Faafoi said he would be looking at changes to better regulate debt collection as part of the review of the Credit, Contracts and Consumer Finance Act.

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