Bank disregards customer’s express wishes about phone contact

Hardship and financial difficulty,
Sydney and his partner had a home loan, and he had a credit card with a $12,000 limit. He regularly made a large number of purchases on his credit card but would repay the amount owing in full each month. In July 2014, however, he lost his job. He and his partner were able to keep up repayments on the home loan, but he fell behind on his minimum card repayments. The bank began texting and emailing him about this. He replied that he had lost his job. He added that he could not communicate by phone because of a medical condition and asked the bank to use email only.
October 2020

Over the following years, little changed. He remained unemployed, he and his partner still kept up home repayments and he was still behind on his minimum card repayments. The bank began transferring funds in his current account to his credit card to maintain some repayments. The bank also began phoning him as well as emailing him, asking that he make contact to discuss the matter. Sydney kept replying that he could only communicate by email because of his medical condition. The bank continued to try to reach him by phone. 

In 2017, Sydney made a complaint to the bank about the transfers from his current account (and that letters sent to him about this were misleading) and the bank’s repeated attempts to contact him by phone. The bank tried to call him by phone to discuss the transfers and his complaint. It then emailed him to advise it had closed his complaint because it hadn’t been able to reach him.

In 2019, the bank emailed him, saying he must enter into an arrangement to repay the outstanding money owing on his credit card or it would begin action to recover the debt. It made more attempts to reach him by phone. Sydney made an arrangement to repay his credit card debt. However, a few days later, the bank sent him a final demand letter. It said he had to repay the credit card debt in full within 14 days or it would close all his accounts.  A few days later the bank confirmed it had sent the letter in error.

Sydney complained to us about the bank’s repeated attempts to contact him by phone, the sending of the final demand letter and the bank’s handling of his difficult financial situation.

Our investigation

In reviewing correspondence between Sydney and the bank, we found Sydney had remained in regular contact with the bank by email, but the bank had persisted in trying to contact him by phone – despite Sydney’s clear requests that it not do so, and despite Sydney’s complaint about these efforts to reach him by phone. We agreed with Sydney that the letters sent when the bank transferred funds between his accounts were misleading (wrongly noting that all amounts overdue had been settled). We were also concerned the bank, in sending the final demand letter, had not considered that Sydney might justifiably interpret the warning about closing all his accounts to include the home loan account – which would have had dramatic implications for him and his partner.


We spoke to the bank about our concerns. It noted that it had changed the wording of its transfer letters and had taken steps to ensure Sydney was not called by phone. It offered to consolidate Sydney’s card debt into his home loan and reduce his debt by $2,000 in recognition of the stress and inconvenience it had caused him. Sydney responded by asking that the bank keep the debt on the credit card but remove all interest (along with the $2,000 debt reduction). He said he could make minimum repayments on the card debt if the bank agreed to this. The bank accepted his counter-offer and the complaint was resolved on this basis.

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