Collections company threatening to publish family pictures over student loan debt
(Photo: Pexels)

Dear Mrs Macaulay,

In 2008 I applied to the Student's Loan Bureau (SLB) with the intention that I would be attending The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus. However, I was accepted to read for my degree at the Western Jamaica Campus in Montego Bay. Realising that I would not be leaving my home in Montego Bay, I was able to keep my job while attending school and therefore would no longer require the help of the Student's Loan Bureau.

I immediately reached out to the SLB and was told by a representative that the funds were already dispersed and that it was too late to cancel. For the remainder of my studies I cancelled the other years of the loan and funded my degree on my own. I tried to make several attempts to start repaying the initial loan amount that was given for my first year to avoid any exorbitant interest charges that would be attached to the loan. However, I was told that I would not be able to start repayment until I completed my degree. Due to a series of family crises, I was not able to complete my degree within the three years allotted, but instead completed in 2013, an additional two years after. Realising the delay at the three-year mark, I reached out to the SLB for directions as to how to start repayment and was told again that I would have to complete my degree first.

I migrated in April 2017 and have been making attempts to contact them on their toll-free number listed on their website; however, it is out of service. Fast-Forward 14 years after the loan was issued, and in January 2022 I received a call from my guarantor in Jamaica that she received a call from a debt collector saying that the loan had been transferred to their collections company and that she was now liable for the debt. At this point we had no communication from the SLB about any arrears and/or the initial delinquency of my account, whether by post, e-mail, and or telephone. This was the first she was hearing about the loan in over 14 years. While I take full responsibility for the funds taken and am still willing to repay what was borrowed, I do believe strongly that it is also the responsibility of SLB to make a reasonable effort to contact me and/or my guarantor to recover the loan upon going into arrears and provide a detailed statement of account showing the principal sum still due, the interest applied, and the date that the account went into arrears.

They have not responded to my requests. Meanwhile, the collections company has acquired my pictures from my social media platforms of me and my children and are threatening to use them in publication. Is this an ethical practice or just another form of harassment? Looking forward to your response.

Your letter is unfortunately not unusual in that so many people apply for and obtain student loans and fail to make any payments or make a few and then stop, though they are working, and allow their loan interest to grow beyond their imagination and then cry foul. It boggles one's mind that they seem to forget or put any thought of the loan out of their minds. When you found when you tried to cancel or withdraw your loan application of 2008 because you would be studying in the western campus in your home city of Montego Bay and not at The UWI, Mona Campus and it was refused because the funds had already been dispersed, you did the best thing by cancelling your application for the other years, continued working while studying. You state that you "tried to make several attempts to start repaying the initial loan amount". This you could not do because you were informed that you could only do so after you have completed your degree.

It is clear that you did not check your loan contract as you clearly did not know what conditions applied to it. You also did not take the prudent step of opening a savings account and put into it what your designated monthly repayment sum was for your actual first year loan plus interest.

You stated that you had some family crises and so you took a further two years to complete your degree in 2013, instead of 2011. You also state that you contacted the SLB when three years had expired since the date of the loan and they again told you that you had to complete your degree before you could commence repaying your loan. Anyway, you completed your degree in 2013 but made no payments to defray your loan and attendant interest thereon. This went on for years while you were working, one must assume, and made no payments to the SLB, as you said nothing about those years. You did nothing until you migrated in 2017. This was nine years after you obtained the loan. You referred to attempts to contact the SLB on their toll-free telephone number listed on their website but failed, as you say "it is out of service". You have not stated the dates of such attempts, nor did you write to them by letter and post it to them. You also have not said that you ever gave to the SLB your address since you migrated and certainly not your e-mail.

This situation continued until 14 years after the year of the granting of the loan and in January of this year your guarantor, who is still in Jamaica, called and told you that she had received a call from a debt collector who informed her that the loan debt had been transferred to their collection company and that she was liable for the debt, and I am sure that she was told the total sum owed and their charges. You then seem to put the blame on the SLB as you state that you had no communication from them about any arrears, by post, e-mail, or telephone. But, again, I mention the fact that you did not say that you informed the SLB of your current address and contact details. In fact, you did not mention in your letter your guarantor until you report her call to you about the debt collector. You mention that this was the first time that she was hearing about the loan. Shame on you, she did you a great kindness and you treated her with complete disrespect, and for 14 years you never said a word to her about your failure to meet your legal obligation and release her from hers. I assume that she trusted you and was sure that you would pay back your loan and that after all the years that you had done so. I can imagine her shock and disappointment in you and her upset when she received the call.

I note what you say you believe, but legal obligations are based on facts and the fact is that you entered into a contract and you are bound by the terms of that contract, as is the SLB. You should therefore check the terms of your contract, which I hope you still have in hand, as it is an important document which you ought to have kept safely from the time you entered into the contract. Your guarantor could also have checked with the SLB about the status of your loan, but no blame rests on her because she is entitled to trust that you had met your obligation and paid your debt. The legal and moral obligation was and is yours. If a legal claim is filed against you and/or your guarantor, the details of your account should be in the claim, but if the details are not given, your attorney-at-law can request for full and better particulars of the loan and interests claimed from what date and to what date. This is so that all aspects of the life of the loan would be clear.

You say, "They have not responded to my requests." Who are they? It cannot be the SLB because the matter is now with the collection company. Have you contacted the company to obtain the statement of what they are claiming so that you can consider what you can do in the short term, middle, and long term. Have you tried to negotiate with them? Or are you leaving your guarantor at their mercy, again? I can only advise you to speak with and negotiate with them, but, really, you ought to obtain the services of a lawyer to represent you and your guarantor and to negotiate on your behalf as the debtor. You are liable for your loan and interest thereon, there is no doubt about this, but some interest may be deducted upon good faith intent to repay on your part and good legal representation on your behalf. You owe a duty to you guarantor to protect her from any legal consequence because of your grievous default for so many years.

The threat you mention of the collections company to publish yours and your childrens' photographs (which they obtained from social media) is unconscionable and unlawful and a serious violation of yours and especially your childrens' human rights, and they would be liable for any such violation of their rights to privacy. However, you cannot use this as excusing you from your legal obligation to pay. Please do the right thing now, you have failed for too many years. You really have no legal excuse which can serve as a successful defence in any court of law and uphold your duty of care to you guarantor to free her from the burden of your debt, which your irresponsible and deliberate inaction for so many years have placed on her shoulder. Get yourself a lawyer and deal with your responsibility now for both your sakes. In all conscience, you cannot delay any longer.

Act quickly and good luck!

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.

DISCLAIMER:

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.

Margarette Macaulay

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