Both Telstra and Origin Energy are evading Court scrutiny of disputed consumer bills by providing false or misleading information to credit-reporting bodies, such as VEDA, in order to have customers with whom they are in dispute ‘default-listed’.  When faced with evidence of the rort, VEDA drags its feet over investigating.

Recent cases reveal the following pattern.  A company such as Telstra or Origin Energy tries to collect an outstanding account but it knows the account is in dispute.  The customer makes it clear that it wants the company to take their claim to Court so that it may be decided independently on its merits.  The company ignores such invitation, possibly because it’s not prepared to risk losing such a case and by so doing creating a precedent for other customers to follow.  So instead it falsely and misleadingly instructs a prominent debt-collection agency to start dunning the customer for the money.  When the agency learns from the customer that the account has always been disputed they, rightly, withdraw.  But the company then instructs a second debt-collection agency, this time perhaps not so prominent, but the same thing happens.  When they learn that their client has not been entirely truthful and that the account is in dispute, they too withdraw.  So having failed to convince two agencies that the matter was a simple debt-collection, and continuing to ignore the customer’s claim that the only proper course of action was to take the dispute to Court, the company still persists in its campaign of threat and intimidation.  It now falsely and dishonestly notifies the credit-reporting body VEDA that it IS a simple payment default, and applies to have the customer’s credit-file ‘default-listed’.  VEDA, accepting at face value the instructions of one of its large corporate fee-paying subscribers, complies.

A ‘default-listing’ stays on your credit-file for five years.  It can prevent you from obtaining any sort of credit for at least that period and its effect can cause devastating financial damage, not only to you but also to any business or organisation with whom you happen to be associated.

You would think that such dishonest actions by large companies would be in breach of the law.  And you would be right.  Each time they disclose false or misleading credit information, whether to a debt-collection agency or to a credit-reporting body, the companies are guilty of offences under the Commonwealth’s Privacy Act 1988 carrying fines of $360,000 per offence.

Unfortunately, like so much consumer-protection legislation, the authorities don’t seem interested in enforcing compliance with the law.  The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) has responsibility for supervision of the Privacy Act.  But their response to enquiries was “The OAIC does not have the jurisdiction to investigate credit reporting or other offences.  Where the Commissioner forms the opinion that a credit reporting offence has occurred, the Commissioner must inform the Commissioner of Police or the Director of Public Prosecutions of that opinion, and discontinue investigating the offence until further noticeThe Commissioner has not needed to make such a notification within the last five years“.                 Companies like Telstra and Origin have clearly discovered that the law can safely be ignored.  It looks as if it will be left to an aggrieved ordinary customer to prosecute them.

VEDA is not entirely free of criticism either.  Whilst initially responding rapidly to complaints and requests that a false debt-listing be “corrected”, they soon start dragging their feet.  Their website states that the Privacy (Credit Reporting) Code 2014 places an obligation on their subscribers, such as Telstra and Origin, to ensure that default information reported to them must be correct; not misleading, and that the debt must not be in dispute.  Yet when documentary evidence is submitted to them showing that the “debt” is very much in dispute, and thus incorrectly listed as being in default, VEDA insist on not responding for up to 30 days, the maximum time allowed to them under the Act.  One would have thought that VEDA would wish to be seen to be taking swifter action where there is evidence to suggest that at least two of its major subscribers have, not as a mistake but dishonestly, provided them with false and misleading information as a means of evading having to legally prove their claims.  VEDA does appear to have succumbed to a conflict of interest between profit and justice.  They were invited to comment on this article but failed to reply.

If  YOU  have been wrongly ‘default-listed’, we would like to hear from you.