A poor credit history could cost you a credit card, a loan or even a job. So if you’re being chased for a debt you don’t owe, dispute it immediately and in writing.

Recently, Brett Taylor did just that. He signed up for a home phone and internet package with Orcon but after experiencing a variety of issues with the service, cancelled his account. Despite being told there’d be nothing to pay, Brett later received a bill for $138.90. Brett called Orcon to dispute the debt but nothing was done to address his complaint. Instead, several months later, Orcon referred the unpaid bill to Baycorp.

In the meantime, Brett looked for a house to rent but struggled to find somewhere because the unpaid bill affected his credit record. He also had a consolidation loan with GE Money declined because of an adverse credit report.

Brett took his case to the Privacy Commissioner but was unsuccessful so tried the Human Rights Review Tribunal. During the tribunal hearing, Orcon acknowledged it hadn’t properly investigated Brett’s complaint and that it should never have referred the disputed debt to Baycorp.

The tribunal found the telco interfered with Brett’s privacy by failing to ensure the information provided to Baycorp was correct. As a result, Orcon was ordered to pay $10,000 to the man for adversely affecting his credit rating and $15,000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings. Orcon was also ordered to provide Privacy Act training to its staff.

The moral of this story is to speak up about bills you don’t owe as soon as you can and get it all in writing. The onus is on the company to establish that the debt is owing before sending it to the debt collectors.