The client came to the Cairns Community Legal Centre after unexpectedly receiving a letter from a debt collection agency requesting the immediate payment of over $900. The letter indicated that the debt was from a telecommunications company. Until this letter arrived the client had received no other correspondence regarding the alleged debt, though he and his wife had, until recently, been long-term customers of the company. The client instructed that he had always maintained payments on his account.
The client was an older man who had suffered a stroke in recent years and was financially reliant on Centrelink benefits. The client had relocated to Cairns with his wife in late 2013 and advised that at the time of his relocation he had contacted the company by phone and advised that any mail should be forwarded to an address in Cairns. In addition, the client arranged for Australia Post to redirect his mail for a six month period.
Around that time the client and his wife began to experience problems with their mobile handsets and, once in Cairns, attended one of the company’s stores to have the phones looked at. As the problem with the phones could not be fixed the client purchased two new low-cost handsets in the store. When these phones also proved defective the client again attended one of the company’s stores, this time to cancel his contract with the company. While in the store the client was assisted to contact the company’s call centre in order to terminate the contract and made cash payment of all monies owed. The client did not receive any communication from the company until the letter from the collection agency arrived approximately four months later.
Cairns CLC contacted both the telecommunications company and debt collection agency on the client’s behalf disputing the debt and seeking copies of any relevant documents or correspondence. The Centre had all collection activity associated with the alleged debt put on hold while the debt remained in dispute.
The telecommunications company was initially unresponsive to requests for information and asserted that the client had not provided change of address details, had not terminated the contract and had not made the appropriate payments. Following further contact from the Centre the matter was eventually escalated to the company’s senior’s complaints team. In negotiations with a company representative the company conceded that the client’s account of event was consistent with the company’s records and the Centre successfully negotiated to have the client’s account credited to a balance of zero, effectively wiping the alleged debt. In addition, the company agreed to recall the debt from the collection agency and to ensure that the client’s credit record would not be adversely affected.