Between October 2013 and February 2017, Sorina bought a number of household goods from a mobile trader. When Sorina defaulted on some loan payments, the mobile trader assigned Sorina’s account to a debt collection company in November 2017. At this time, Sorina owed about $1,030.
The debt collection company contacted Sorina and it was agreed that Sorina would repay the debt at the rate of $10 per week.
Sorina made some payments as agreed, but also missed some payments. Each time Sorina missed a payment, the debt collection company charged a $70 default fee.
Sorina’s budget adviser complained on her behalf to FSCL about the level of the default fees charged to her account. Sorina thought the fees were unreasonable. The debt collection company didn’t think it had done anything wrong and declined to settle Sorina’s complaint.
When we looked for the debt collection company, we found it was not registered on the Financial Service Providers’ Register, nor a member of dispute resolution scheme. As the debt collection company became a creditor under a credit contract when Sorina’s debt was assigned to it by the mobile trader, the debt collection company was required to be registered. After discussing this with the debt collection company, the company registered on the Financial Services Providers Register and joined FSCL.
Because the debt collection company was not complying with the law (by not being a registered financial service provider or member of a dispute resolution scheme) when they charged the default fees, we found that the company could not charge any default fees until they joined FSCL in November 2018.
We also considered the default fee of $70 was unreasonable and had not been properly disclosed to Sorina. Under her original contract with the mobile trader, the default fee was only $15 per missed payment. When we pointed this out, the debt collection company agreed to reduce future default fees to $15.
Finally, we were of the view that the debt collection company had caused unnecessary stress and inconvenience to Sorina by charging $70 default fees in breach of the law, and so increasing her debt by some margin.
We recommended that the debt collection company write off default fees totalling $770 and credit Sorina’s loan account with the sum of $250 as compensation for inconvenience. This had the effect of reducing Sorina’s outstanding loan balance to approximately $340.
The parties accepted our recommendation and the complaint was settled.
Insight for consumers
When dealing with any type of financial service provider, you should check to see that they are registered on the Financial Service Providers Register and a member of an approved dispute resolution scheme. If the provider is not registered, they are not complying with the law.
If you think a fee charged is unreasonable, or not in accordance with your loan contract, you should query this with your provider. If you do not receive a satisfactory response, you can complain to FSCL.