Debt collectors — in New York, at least — are “not taking adequate steps” to ensure that individuals who do not speak English “can understand and resolve their alleged debts,” according to the results of a survey that was released by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, which conducted a survey of nearly 600 licensed collection agencies.
In New York City, where 25% of the 8 million residents are Limited English Proficient (LEP), less than half of collection agencies reported that they contact individuals in a language other than English to collect debts, and only 9% said they provide translation services, according to the report, which can be accessed here.
This report matches up with something I heard recently from a letter vendor, who said that agencies are using services like Google Translate to convert letters written in English to Spanish and are not having the Spanish letters reviewed to make sure the translations were accurate.
Among some of the issues that were identified in the report are:
- consumers were required to wait several minutes before being transferred to someone who spoke their preferred language;
- calls were transferred to a voicemail with only English-language instructions;
- several consumers were asked questions in English despite a request for language access services; and
- many times the purported multilingual representatives spoke in both English and the other language, making it incomprehensible for the LEP consumer.
For those agencies that say they provide translation services, some do not measure up. “Even collectors that attempt to provide some level of language access assistance often fall short; for example, documents may be only partially translated or staff members are not properly trained or
do not speak the language proficiently and may discourage consumers from taking advantage of the services offered,” the report concluded.
Among the recommendations made in the report are:
- Require regulators to make available to debt collection agencies in multiple languages models of all legally required consumer notices, disclosures, and correspondences, as well as a glossary of commonly used debt collection terms.
- Require that, upon receiving a consumer’s language preference, in any form of communication and at any time, debt collectors cease collection activity for 30 days after the consumer is provided with a validation notice in the consumer’s preferred language.
- Require that debt collectors include in all initial consumer correspondence a clear and conspicuous disclosure in multiple languages that validation notices are available in a consumer’s preferred language.
- Require that all debt collectors provide a glossary of commonly used debt collection terms in the same language as the validation notice and, upon request, in any language in which a glossary is made available by a regulating body.
- Require that debt collectors provide a notice on any public facing website(s) and in written communications that a glossary is available from the debt collector in any language in which a glossary is made available by a regulating body.
- Require that debt collectors request and retain on file:
- language preference of each consumer from whom the agency attempts to collect debt;
- number of consumer accounts serviced in a language other than English; and
- number of customer representatives employed to service accounts in a languageother than English and the languages they speak proficiently.
- Require that debt collectors indicate consumers’ language access preferences in consumer files that may be transferred back to the creditor or to another debt collector, referred for litigation, or sold to a debt buyer.
- Prohibit inaccurate or incomplete translations in connection with the collection of any debts.