Credit report communication

Sophia made a purchase using a Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) provider in 2019. She later returned the items to the shop, but not before incurring two $10 late payment fees. The BNPL provider emailed Sophia about the fees, but she did not see the emails. Sophia was unaware of the fees, and the $20 debt remained unpaid. The BNPL provider listed the debt on Sophia’s credit file.

Sophia became aware of the adverse listing in 2020 and immediately paid the outstanding $20. She complained to the BNPL provider that they could have tried harder to contact her, such as calling or texting, before placing the listing. The provider told Sophia that they could not remove the listing on her credit file. They did not provide any details to Sophia about how to escalate her complaint.

Sophia submitted a complaint through the BNPL provider’s online form in August 2021 requesting that they remove the adverse listing from her credit report. The provider removed the adverse credit listing and apologised to Sophia that it had been filed.

Sophia complained to FSCL in September 2021 about the adverse listing and the way the BNPL provider dealt with her complaint in 2020. Sophia sought compensation for the stress. However, she did not return her permission to release information form, and we closed the complaint file. In September 2022, Sophia contacted FSCL again and said she had been too busy to proceed with the complaint earlier, but now wanted to continue with the process.

Dispute

Sophia said that the credit listing had caused her to be unable to obtain a rental property or a home loan and had prevented her from obtaining better employment. Sophia wanted $5,000 as compensation for the stress and inconvenience, being the maximum amount FSCL can award for non-financial loss under our terms of reference. She also wanted to know why the BNPL provider could not remove the listing in 2020 but could in 2021.

The BNPL provider did not respond to the complaint referral. It appeared that they may have considered the complaint resolved when they apologised and removed the adverse credit listing in 2021.

Review

We found that the BNPL provider could have taken further steps to communicate with Sophia before placing the adverse credit listing. The complaint could have been avoided if they had called or texted Sophia, as it is likely she would have paid the outstanding $20. We noted that Sophia contributed to the issue as she had not made the payments in time, but we could see how this occurred in context of the item being returned and Sophia not knowing of the overdue payments. Sophia’s contribution to the issue was negligible.

The overdue amount of $20 was very small compared to the possible harm caused by an adverse listing. We were of the view that the provider should not have placed the adverse credit listing on Sophia’s credit file, especially when they did not exhaust all possible avenues to warn her of the listing. The provider appeared to be aware of the listing being unreasonable when they were so quick to confirm in 2021 that it should not have been placed.

We could appreciate Sophia’s frustration at the credit listing being able to be removed in 2021 but not in 2020. It was unclear why the BNPL provider did not remove the listing earlier, and that lack of explanation added to the overall stress that Sophia experienced in dealing with the provider.

The BNPL provider should have provided Sophia with our details in 2020 when she first raised a complaint. The provider was a FSCL member at the time, and under our terms of reference, they were required to provide our contact details to any complaining customer. If Sophia had known about FSCL in 2020 and complained to us, the adverse credit listing likely would have been removed in 2020.

It seemed unusual that an adverse listing on Sophia’s credit file in relation to a $20 outstanding amount, and where the credit limit was only $120, would have been the sole cause of serious effects on employment, obtaining a rental property, or obtaining a home loan. We did not receive a copy of Sophia’s full credit file, so it was difficult to know whether there were any other adverse listings that may have negatively contributed to Sophia’s issues. It was near impossible for Sophia to prove that the adverse credit listing from the BNPL provider was a significant contributing factor. It was likely there were other contributing factors such as competing candidates or financial constraints.

We saw no evidence of the BNPL provider being rude in their communications. In the absence of information to the contrary, we accepted Sophia’s view that the provider delayed in some of their communications with her. Against this, we noted that Sophia’s communication with the provider was at times unacceptable. Sophia sent many rude and inappropriate emails, including to a new employer of the BNPL provider’s past employee. In our view, Sophia’s unacceptable communication with the provider contributed to the time taken for them to communicate with her and resolve her complaint.

Resolution

Taking all factors into consideration, the level of compensation that we found was fair and reasonable for Sophia’s stress and inconvenience was $250. Both parties accepted this resolution, and we closed our complaint file.

Insights for consumers and participants

BNPL providers should ensure that they exhaust all reasonable options to notify a consumer of overdue fees before filing an adverse credit listing. Further, all FSCL participants must notify complaining consumers of their option to contact us.

Consumers should maintain acceptable and respectful communication with service providers.