Court rules on fine ACM imposed on debt collection agency Credit Invest
On 17 January 2019, the District Court of Rotterdam ruled in the case in which the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) imposed a fine on debt collection agency Credit Invest.
ACM has chosen to adopt a comprehensive approach for tackling the problems in the debt collection sector. In addition to educating consumers and credit counselors, ACM has taken action against debt collection agencies and their clients to bring unfair commercial practices to an end.
In 2018, ACM imposed fines on Credit Invest and its executive. On appeal, the District Court has now ruled that ACM correctly imposed these fines. Credit Invest, also known as De Nederlandse Incassocentrale, exerted pressure on consumers to pay bills for agreements that are legally invalid. Credit Invest failed to answer questions of consumers who asked for an explanation about their bills. Meanwhile, Credit Invest kept urging them persistently to pay, threatening with legal proceedings and high collection and legal fees.
Wrongful debt collection is an unfair commercial practice
The District Court agrees with ACM that these practices constitute unfair commercial practices. Consumers have the right to know what bill the debt collection agency is collecting, and whether or not that claim is correct. According to the court, the fact that Credit Invest did not answer consumers’ questions violated the requirements of professional diligence. ACM was right to base the interpretation of the requirements of professional diligence on the code of conduct of the Dutch Association of Debt Collection Agencies (NVI). Even for companies that are not a member of NVI, the code of conduct can be used as a reference for determining what constitutes professional conduct.
Persistent and unsolicited insistence is an aggressive commercial practice
The debt collection agency kept urging consumers, in a persistent and unsolicited manner, to pay for agreements that were made over the telephone. However, the District Court decided, just like ACM, that these agreements were invalid, because these were agreements to perform services regularly. These agreements are only valid if the consumer has given his written consent. Since this was not the case, Credit Invest could not collect any bills. It acted aggressively by urging, in a persistent and unsolicited manner, consumers to pay.
According to the District Court, the duration of one of the violations was shorter than ACM had stated. That is why the fines were adjusted downwards. The fine for Credit Invest is 365,000 euro (down from 375,000). The executive has to pay 38,500 euro (down from 40,000).
Credit Invest has the opportunity to file an appeal against this ruling.