The Australia Collectors and Debt Buyers Association (ACDBA) is on a public relations drive. CEO of ACDBA, Alan Harries, says he and his members are keen to dispel the knuckle-dragging hit man image surrounding their industry.

These days, he told the press, debt collectors rarely (if ever) knock on doors. The vast majority of the industry work through professional call centres – with most debt collection happening without any face-to-face meetings.

Sending someone to a debtor’s home simply costs more than it is worth. “It costs a lot of money to send people out and knock on doors,” said Mr Harries. “The industry is heavily regulated by ASIC and the ACCC, which limits the time frame in which collectors can speak with consumers.

“There’s no point knocking on most doors between 9am and 5pm.”

In fact, the entire industry is changing its perspective from ‘hassling’ to resolving.

“None of us know what a consumer is facing in their own circumstances. They might have lost a job, gone through a divorce. There’s no way of knowing why an account hasn’t been paid until you talk to them.”

And that’s why Mr Harries is asking those who think they may be getting contacted by a debt collection service to do one thing – PICK UP THE PHONE!

A report into the debt collection industry by the ACCC acknowledged there were still problems. However, most of these arose from complaints the customer had about the debt rather than the collection agency.

ACCC deputy Chair Delia Rickard said she believed “The debt collection industry had made significant improvements in recent years.

“Many in the industry clearly take their compliance obligations seriously and are committed to improving their reputation. However, this report shows there is room for further improvement.”

The report singles out for concern some fees added onto debts to be collected, intimidation through threats of legal action for very minor debts, and excessive contact when a consumer quite obviously is unable to pay.

Mr Harries says the vast majority of collection accounts come from electricity and telecommunications providers. And he is outraged at the current hardship programs offered by providers.

“Some individual operators do it well, but generally those industries haven’t gotten their heads around how to best handle genuine hardship.”

The ACDBA has begun a National Hardship Register. While still in its infancy this register will void debbts for people found by a financial counsellor to be in genuine dire straits.

Should a client be listed on the register, members from his association will not contact them and be forbidden to on-sell the debt. Debt buyers and collectors acting for a third party will recommend to their principals that the debt be forgiven.

“Our experience is almost without exception they all accept the recommendation.”

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