Growth of the sectors
The growth of the investigation and security sector, along with the debt collection industry has contributed to the expansion of security industry regulation. As more and more businesses take up the services of debt collectors and investigation services, the need for a more stringent policing, has never become more apparent.
Coping a slating in the media
The industries have had their fair share of bad press, predominantly in the 1990’s where in New South Wales, a report by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (1992), found that private investigators were brokering an extensive trade in confidential information, estimated to have exceeded $1 million over several years.
Due to the high risk nature of some of the work, police and governments have reluctantly increased regulation of the sector. Most of the regulations have to be managed via professional associations implementing membership standards. However, as with a toothless tiger, their powers to investigate and prosecute are limited.
Amendments were made to the Commercial Agents and Private Inquiry Agents Act 1963, including requirements for qualifications and the introduction of an offence of harassment. However, obtaining a licence was described as being: as simple as filling out a form, paying a fee, and taking it to the local licensing sergeant ... after which you could strap a gun to your hip and protect premises, go on patrol and provide cash carrying services. (Prenzler, Timothy, Sarre & Rick, 2012)
The token like nature of the regulation, was a key driving factor in the increase of complaints regarding private investigators and debt collectors alike.
Complaints are on the rise
Research Into The Australian Debt Collection Industry has found that; Debt collection issues are responsible for a considerable percentage of all complaints reported. Many of the grievances relate to excessive, harassing and intimidating behavior.
It has been noted that most of the collection complaints were regarding a dispute about the nature of the debt itself, rather than the conduct of debt collectors. However, there are also complaints about illegal debt collection practices, in particular misleading, unconscionable, harassing and coercive conduct.
Junk service has been an ongoing issue from the early 1970’s. Agents misleading debtors into receiving court documents, only to be thrown out of court for misrepresentation at a later date. The effect on a firm’s reputation cannot be understated.
A change is in the air
A report instigated by the Australian Competition And Consumer Commission states “There is general agreement among regulators that the current level of regulation is adequate, although further streamlining of regulatory structures and models may be desirable”. ("Research Into The Australian Debt Collection Industry", 2015)
IBISWorld forecasts and increase to regulations both in the Investigation and Security Services as well as the Debt Collection industry, to coincide with the models currently run in Queensland and New South Wales. (Investigation and Security Services in Australia Market Research IBISWorld", 2017).
Investigation and Security Services in Australia Report January 2017
It is fair to say that the future holds an industry shake up as consumers become more aware of their rights and as Western Australia usually follows suit behind the other states and territories of Australia when it comes to regulatory change.
What does it mean for the little guys?
The impact on smaller process serving companies becomes apparent when you realise that the “debtor field call”, falls under an investigative service, and therefore, will need an appropriately licenced operator to conduct it, especially if the evidence should go to court.
Currently, in Western Australia, field agents can conduct the work without the need for a licence, but forecasters are expecting that to change in the very near future.
Are your service suppliers licenced and ready for the changes?