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Dave Manville

Debt Collection Needed to Recover ACT Patient Debt


ACT Health, Canberra is seeking to recover millions of dollars in debt from former patients both within Australia and across the world who were ineligible for free healthcare. Non-eligible patient debt has blown out from $1.4 million in 2012 to $6.6 million in 2017.

An ACT government spokesman said all debts will first flow through the internal Debt Recovery process before being sent on to an external debt recovery agency. There would be safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable people were not harrassed by debt collectors. There are grounds for compassionate exemptions, assessed on a case by case basis, the spokesman said.

Visitors from countries with Reciprocal Health Care agreements with Australia can access free public hospital treatment. Students from Norway, Finland, Malta and the Republic of Ireland are among those not covered by the agreements.

Health Care Consumers’ Association of the ACT executive director Darlene Cox said the $6 million debt was a relatively small proportion of the $1.6 billion health budget. “Health care isn’t free, we pay for it through our taxes and if people here aren’t able to contribute the way others do, it means bearing cost of their care,” Ms Cox said. However if the government chose to recover the unpaid money, she believed debt collection should not be done with a “heavy handed approach”.

President of the ACT branch of the Australian Medical Association Professor Steve Robson said there was a difference between deliberately not paying back debt, poor organisation, and the poor person who is a victim of the system. He hoped the government would be wary about how this is done and that debt collection would be carried out in a “compassionate” way.

Tips for Managing Debt Recovery in Trades and Small Businesses

Small businesses and independent contractors in the building and construction industry are often left vulnerable to unpaid debt. Invoicing early and chasing payment are two important ways to help keep cashflow flowing but polite reminders aren’t always enough. Knowing what you can do to recover the debt you’re owed is not always easy.

Customers who ignore your early requests to repay their debts are likely to continue to do so until something changes so businesses should not feel bad about putting on pressure. Remember it’s a contractual relationship so it’s important that you have a copy of the terms and conditions signed by your customer, the relevant invoices, proof of delivery and any other communication or paperwork about the debt.

Independent contractors in the building and construction industry can also get help to recover unpaid debts under state and territory security of payment laws. These laws usually provide a dispute resolution mechanism for building and construction contractors who are owed progress payments for work performed for a hirer. While the laws differ between states and territories, generally they allow you to issue the hirer with a payment claim, which gives the hirer a strict timeframe in which to respond with either payment or a payment schedule.

Ultimately, you will still have to decide if you’re going to spend a lot of your working time trying to get customers to pay the debt yourself, or pay a debt collection agency or use debt collection software. Many small businesses and independent contractors see professional help with debt collection as a form of insurance and a way to reduce worry and stress about money.

The Future of Debt Collection

Debt collectors are embracing a high-tech future as way of boosting payments. Forget letters and phone calls, collections agencies are moving on to adopt new, creative techniques. Collections company managers say their innovations will benefit consumers as well as the industry.


Ringless Voicemail

New software lets debt collectors insert voicemails into phones without actually ringing. Technically they aren’t even calls at all, but messages sent to phone companies’ servers that show up as voicemails. Ringless messages can mean people feel less ambushed and more in control, returning the call when it suits them. Some debt collectors say these unannounced voicemails work so well their call centers get flooded with inbound volume as debtors respond.

Animated Cartoons

Animated cartoon characters are serving as virtual debt collections agencies that save consumers the embarrassment of being hounded by real people. They show up in email inboxes and on collection agency websites, and they’re said to be three times more effective at talking debtors into making payments. These Avatars can be designed to speak multiple languages and evaluate debtors’ credit scores when negotiating payments.

Speech Analytics

When real people do make calls, innovations such as speech analytics programs can make this process easier. Advanced language-recognition programs not only track keywords during phone conversations but identify emotions, recognising when a debtor is upset and notifying management for help. Prompts from the software then help conversations get back on track.

While these high-tech advancements may be making the debt recovery process less stressful for some consumers, those who simply do not have the resources to make payments might still find themselves dreading bills and debt collection attempts. If you have an overwhelming debt try to get help early. Get some budget advice and see if you can negotiate repayments with the creditor.

Australian Debt Levels Soar

Utilities bills, mortgage repayments and credit card debt are all contributing to Australian household’s rising financial stress. Last year over 150,000 calls were made to the National Debt Helpline. Calls for the helpline this year are already 20 per cent higher.

Bills are becoming more and more difficult to meet as the cost of living rises. Households are carrying more debt than they have before, reaching a record high of 189 per cent. At the same time, they are experiencing slower wage growth than they have for some decades.

Martin North, principal of financial research firm Digital Finance Analytics has calculated that in March, around 22 percent of mortgaged households were in mild mortgage stress. These are households who are managing to make their mortgage repayments but only by cutting back their spending or putting more purchases on credit cards.

When you do find yourself caught, unable to pay the bills and facing a pile of debt, often the best way out of the credit trap is to look for help from someone who can give you sound budgeting advice. Just learning to draw up a household budget and sticking to it, might even help you avoid getting into that terrible predicament in the first place.

The National Debt Helpline suggest that when times are getting tough, Australians tend to  look for a quick fix from credit card companies and payday lenders. Then too often, some weeks later they’ll find themselves in an even worse financial position because they can’t keep up with the high interest rates.

Financial counsellor Greg Russell says many Australians who are close to bankruptcy will simply take on more and more credit card debt, racking up tens of thousands of dollars until it, and the debt collection agency, eventually catches up with them.

If someone owes you money and you’re finding it hard to get them to cough up, you should consider the iCollect debt collection software, a simple and cost-effective means to recovering debts in Australia.

Expert Offers Advice on Repaying & Reducing Debt

Expert Offers Advice on Repaying & Reducing DebtIf you feel like you’re struggling under a mountain of debt, you’re not alone. Regional Australians are finding it increasingly difficult to repay their debts compared to 12 months ago, according to a new business survey.

The report found that 51% of regional SME owners feel consumers are finding it more difficult to make debt repayments than last year while 44% confirmed they are struggling to chase money from their customers. 77% of regional respondents are waiting over 60 days before referring debts to a collection agency.

The CEO of the debt collection agency that conducted the survey, Roger Mendelson is telling Australian SMEs now is the time to focus on getting their debts under control instead of living beyond their means by comfortably sitting on their debts. “This is a major concern for the future should a recession, or any economic downturn hit.” Mr Mendelson said.

 Mr Mendelson shared his expert advice on reducing debt to ensure future financial security.

  • Pay your bills. If you’re sued for unpaid bills you’ll not only have hefty legal costs, it will affect your credit rating.
  • Budget hard, especially if you have more bills than cash flow. Once you’ve cleared your debts you are freed up to save more and faster.
  • Consider consolidating your debts into your home loan, where the interest rate is much lower.
  • The worst thing you can do is nothing – so ask for help from a financial adviser or accountant.
  • Reduce the most expensive debt such as your credit card balance first and aim to get to a position where you can pay it off in full every month.

Legal Action Sought by Single Mother Against Debt Collector Panthera

Legal Action Sought by Single Mother Against Debt Collector PantheraEdwina Crawford, a single mother of four is seeking legal action against a debt collection agency for repeated harassment. 

Panthera, the debt collection firm at the centre of the lawsuit bought Ms Crawford’s original debt from AGL and now claims she owes them around $5000.

According to Ms Crawford, the debt collectors allegedly tried to harass the money out of her in a phone call in June 2014, threatening to take her car and furniture, contact Centrelink to access her payments, and even telling her she would go to jail, she says. 

Ms Crawford says Panthera called her 10 times in a fortnight; her lawsuit claims the level of harassment she received from them is illegal.

Panthera denies all the allegations. “We are very aware that the law prohibits us from harassing customers, engaging in threatening behaviour, garnisheeing Centrelink benefits or seizing household goods. We have a number of safeguards in place to ensure this conduct does not occur,” a spokeswoman said.

Licensed debt collectors are actually very tightly regulated and bound by an industry code of practice so it’s worth being aware of what debt collectors can and can’t do. Some of the key regulations include the hours that debt collectors are allowed to contact you on the phone – between 7.30am and 9pm (9am-9pm on weekends) and no more than three times a week or up to 10 times a month.

Financial and Consumer Rights Council’s executive officer, Peter Gartlan​ says there are still small debt shops that act like cowboys, but observers say overall Australia’s debt collection services industry has done much to clean up its act in the past five years. 

Understanding the Perils of Debt

Understanding the PerilsIt’s a whole lot easier getting into debt than getting out of it and staying out. We’ve put together some key points to help in understanding the debt trap.

The person who owes money is the debtor. The creditor is the person or company who is owed. The creditor may employ a debt collection agency to have the money repaid or sell the debt to the debt collection agency, so the debt collection agency then becomes the creditor.

If your debt is with a debt collection agency but you dispute the debt or any amount of it, it is important to advise the agency in writing as soon as possible.

Depending on the amount of the debt you owe, the creditor can pursue you through the disputes tribunal, the District Court, and even the High Court (usually if the debt is more than $200,000).

Creditors may also repossess and sell your property but only if you put it up as security and agreed to the credit contract allowing this. If you arranged a guarantor for the loan, the creditor can pursue them to have the debt repaid.

The worst thing you can do with debt is ignore it because it won’t go away – but it will attract additional costs and interest. Debt collection agencies can charge fees over and above the debt, however these must be reasonable and you must have been advised of those fees at the time of making the contract. Interest may also accrue depending on the terms of the contract.

If you find yourself in debt, get some advice on whether the debt is legally enforceable, get some budget advice, and see if you can negotiate repayments with the creditor.

Builders Taking Hard Line on Clients to Avoid Debt Collection Agencies

Builders taking hard lineA credit crunch for building companies and contractors in New Zealand has seen more builders being chased by debt collectors. Christchurch’s building debt increased by about 40 per cent from 2014 to last year, and one debt collection agency has tripled its workload. It had increased its staff to handle the extra work, the owner said.

To avoid the debt collection agencies, builders are now taking a hard line on their clients. They no longer have the capacity to endure the slow payments that were being accepted after the Canterbury earthquakes. Together with the greater tax demands from the Inland Revenue Department and a slowdown in the residential rebuild means some builders have drawn a line in the sand, changing their tolerance to their debtors.

Where once 60 to 90 days was being accepted for payment, most businesses could no longer hold out for that long. Many are also taking a harder stance on enforcing payment by the standard 20th of the month, rather than accepting the growing numbers of clients who were putting off payments until the end of the month. In response, some debt collection agencies are recommending their clients ask for payment in 7 to 14 days to avoid risking cash flow problems.

Restructuring specialist, Rhys Cain, said the construction industry and associated trades accounted for most of the liquidations his company was currently dealing with. More than half of his 20 liquidations around the country in the past year were in the building industry.

The next sectors that may attract the interest of debt collectors as they were likely to feel financially squeezed over the coming 12 to 24 months would be hospitality and companies exposed to dairy farming, Cain said.

Understanding Your Rights When a Debt Collector Calls

Understanding Your Rights When a Debt Collector CallsIf your debts are turning bad, understanding your rights and obligations and your options for arranging repayment is the best way to deal with the debt collector and make a plan for the future.  If you don’t believe you owe the money you need to dispute the debt immediately. Give your reasons in writing and provide copies of evidence. 

If you owe the money but can’t afford to pay, you should get professional advice on how to deal with the creditor and on budgeting so you can work out a manageable repayment arrangement. If you don’t pay or get behind on your payments, the item you bought on hire purchase or listed as security for the loan may be repossessed.

You only have to pay fees such as interest if you knew about them and agreed to do so when you entered into the contract. However, a creditor can also take you to Court and if they’re successful you might be ordered to pay costs.

When making repayments, don’t just pay the creditor directly without checking – you may owe the debt collector and not the creditor. Debt collection letters should include instructions on who to pay.

Each credit reference agency keeps a database which may contain different information about you. Under the Privacy Act, you have the right to obtain a free copy of your personal credit record. If a credit reference agency has entered the wrong information about you, you have the right to ask for it to be changed.

It’s also important to know that under the Fair Trading Act, it’s unlawful to use harassment, coercion, and physical violence to collect debts. Overall however it’s better not to wait for the debt collectors to get involved – be proactive about getting on top of your debt.

A Day in the Life of a Debt Collector

A Day in the Life of a Debt CollectorEver wondered what debt collectors actually do? Being a debt collector is essentially a customer service job. In this case, the service is to help people pay their bills when they become overdue.

The first step is finding the debtor. Debt collectors spend their day acting as a detective, searching for information which is often outdated and inaccurate, to help them locate debtors and resolve the debt.

Debt collectors also deal with inbound phone calls as well. They come from either the right debtor they have been trying to reach, the wrong people who live at an address or with a phone number that was once associated with the debtor, or from third parties who know or have a relationship with the debtor.

Once the debt collector makes contact with a debtor they need to find out why they haven’t paid, when they plan on paying, and how they are paying. The debt collector will determine the consumer’s ability to pay and work through different repayment options with them to find one that is practical and manageable.

Debt collectors work with the consumer to try to resolve their account even when clients are upset and frustrated. Over the years, an increasing emphasis has been placed on training debt collectors on conflict resolution so they understand the frustration consumers face and know it is not directed at them personally, but at the situation.

Debt collectors are committed to turning difficult circumstances into positive experiences but it can be a stressful job. Debt collectors are negotiators, mediators, counsellors, accountants, and people too. Their job is to keep people accountable, and do what they can to help.

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