Posted on: Jun 03, 2015
In a recent decision the Human Rights Review Tribunal ordered telecommunications company, Orcon, to pay $25,000 in damages. This case sends a strong reminder to agencies to check the accuracy of personal information before using it.
The Applicant, Mr Taylor, had a dispute with Orcon over a bill. Before the dispute was resolved, Orcon sent the debt to the collection agency, Baycorp. Baycorp then listed a payment default on Mr Taylor’s credit report with Veda Advantage.
Mr Taylor’s complaint was regarding whether Orcon’s actions were a breach of principle 8 of the Act. Principle 8 says that agencies must take reasonable steps to make sure information it is uses is “accurate, up to date, complete, relevant and not misleading.”
For an action to be considered an interference with privacy, there must be a breach of a privacy principle, which causes harm to the individual.
Mr Taylor claimed the Orcon default on his credit report caused him harm including:
- a finance company declined his application for a loan,
- he was unable to secure rental accommodation (because landlords do not want tenants with a negative credit rating)
- his family was significantly stressed and embarrassed.
The Tribunal found that it was enough that the Orcon default had “a real influence” or “more than minimal” influence upon the Applicant’s situation, and it did not have to be the sole or the material cause.
The Tribunal said it was sufficient for Mr Taylor to establish the Orcon’s default was a materially contributing cause leading to the complainant’s harm. This is despite there being other contributing factors.
The Tribunal clearly articulated the need to consider the connection between the harm and the defendant’s action in the broad sense. It was sufficient the Orcon default was considered as a contributing factor by the finance company and the property manager when declining Mr Taylor’s applications. The fact that other adverse information was present on Mr Taylor’s credit file was found to be irrelevant.
From now on, the Privacy Commission will be applying the law in the way interpreted by the Tribunal. This means they will be getting tougher on respondents who have breached one of the principles, so watch out!
This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.