Mr. Verma is on his routine morning walk when someone suddenly shouts: “Mr. Verma…hello, Mr. Verma”
Mr. Verma increases his pace and is almost running now but the person is fast and catches up with him.
Mr. Sharma (with his hand on Mr. Verma’s shoulder) gasps for breath
Mr. Verma: You almost gave me a heart attack!
Mr. Sharma: But I was only calling to ask about your new phone
Mr. Verma: Nah, I am not using it any more (sighs); I should have never taken that post-paid connection.
Mr. Sharma: What happened?
Mr. Verma: (looks back) Run Sharma run, the collection agents are here again
Funny? Pathetic? Opening lines of a godforsaken stand up act?
Collection agents, as they are popularly known, are infamous and are ingrained as no more than goons in the psyche of the common man. But as far as their nexus with telecom service providers is concerned, there is no cause to worry. TRAI has recently come out with a new set of guidelines regarding collection of dues especially with regard to engagement of outsourced agencies.
The guidelines (available here) lay down some salient points:
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
In order to escape any sort of harassment at the hand of agents of the outsourced agency, it is imperative to be acquainted with these guidelines. We try to decode the same for you:
- A transparent policy consistent with licensing conditions and Indian laws should be put up on the service provider’s website.
- As the outsourcing agency shall act only on behalf of the service provider, the latter shall be vicariously liable for any actions of the former.
- A code of conduct for the outsourcing agency should be displayed on the service provider’s website. Engaging an outsourcing agency shall have no effect on a consumer’s rights that include the rights to redressal under Indian Telegraph Rules, TRAI Regulations, directions, orders etc.
- It is mandatory for a telecom service provider to establish an effective complaint handling mechanism.
- Information should be given to the customer regarding his outstanding dues with details of the supervisory officer for clarification before an outsourcing agency is appointed to deal with the said consumer’s case.
- A disputed bill pending before the nodal officer/appellate authority cannot be handed over to an outsourced agency.
- Names and telephone numbers of agencies and agents shall be published on the service provider’s website.
- The outsourced agency needs to have a clean record.
- No sub-contractors can be engaged by the outsourced agency unless there is a written agreement to the effect.
- An agency that uses illegal means to collect dues cannot be employed. By implication, collection agents acting on behalf of telecom companies cannot bully you.
- The contract between the service provider and the agency should include a code of conduct among other which means that the recovery agents need to follow the code of conduct while dealing with the consumer
- The recovery agents for cannot have a criminal background.
- No legal notice can be issued to the consumer by the agency but only by the service provider.
- Not more than one agent of the agency can contact you at a time.
Identification of the agent
- The agent has to carry a photo ID card and an authorization letter from the service provider and is supposed to show you the ID card by himself.
- No agent can portray himself to be a lawyer/police/representative of any government agency.
Till now, guidelines on recovery agents were available only for banks and financial institutions. The guidelines issued by TRAI are a huge step in the direction of reducing the harassment faced by telecom consumers at the hands of recovery agents.
We had covered your rights against recovery agents in both the banking sector and the telecom sector in a separate article earlier (see The menace of recovery agents: Your rights against them). The recent guidelines by TRAI will give a further boost to consumer rights and provide you with a powerful weapon to counter harassment.