Debt Collectors

Debt collection is a necessary business activity, as creditors and collectors are entitled to collect payment for debts that consumers are legally bound to pay. There are some guidelines for these activities. See ‘Debts’ for more information.

The ACCC asserts that debtors should be treated fairly, with respect and courtesy. The communications with debtors should be reasonable and occur only to the extent necessary. Debt collectors can contact a debtor for a range of reasons. The ACCC sets out a number of situations where communication may be necessary:

  • give information about the debtor’s account;
  • convey a demand for payment;
  • accurately explain the consequences of non-payment, including any legal remedies available to the collector/creditor, and any service restrictions that may apply in the case of utilities (for example, electricity);
  • make arrangements for repayment of a debt;
  • put a settlement proposal or alternative payment arrangement to the debtor;
  • review existing arrangements after an agreed period;
  • ascertain why earlier attempts to contact the debtor have not been responded to within a reasonable period, if this is the case;
  • ascertain why an agreed repayment arrangement has not been complied with, if this is the case;
  • investigate whether the debtor has changed their residential location without informing you, when there are grounds for believing this has occurred;
  • sight, inspect or recover a security interest; or
  • at the debtor’s request

It is not reasonable to frighten, intimidate, harass, demoralise, exhaust, or embarrass the debtor. Consumer legislation on the prohibition of misleading and deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct, and a general criminal prohibition of the use of physical force, undue harassment and coercion all apply to debt collectors. The ACCC and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) publish a guideline for debt collection.

Bag searches

Stores are entitled to set certain conditions on a customer’s entry into a store. The most common condition (set in an effort to reduce shoplifting) is that a store reserves the right to check a customer’s bags. The store should have a prominent sign at the entrance to the store advising customers of this condition. Entry to a store where such signage is displayed is acceptance of this condition.

The store is only entitled to look at the contents of a customer’s bag; they are not entitled to touch them. A customer may refuse to allow a bag check, but the store may then ask the customer to leave. If the store forcibly conducts a bag search against the customer’s will, they could be committing an assault. If the store forcibly detains a customer who has not in fact stolen any goods, the customer may be able to sue for false imprisonment.

The Australian Retailers Association produces a set of guidelines for the checking of bags and parcels in retail stores. The Tasmanian Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading department publishes these guidelines.

Uncollected Goods

If goods left with another person (e.g. for repair, dry cleaning, engraving or storing) are not collected, that person may have a right to dispose of the goods. This right is either a right under the contract, a right conferred by the Disposal of Uncollected Goods Act 1968 (Tas), or a court order.

Weights and Measures

As with most other consumer issues, weights and measures are now regulated through Commonwealth legislation, the National Measurement Act 1960 (Cth)  and a Commonwealth office – the National Measurement Institute. The National Measurement Act sets the requirements for package information to be displayed on articles packed in advance ready for sale, and creates offences where a person fails to meet packaging requirements (s18JA). Packaging information is required to accurately reflect the measurement of the goods inside. For example, if a product description says ‘Corned beef, 100 gm’ but is in fact only 90 gm, this would be an offence.

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