New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has adopted amendments related to Limited English Proficiency (LEP) consumers into its debt collection rules. The amendment was initially proposed on March 5, 2020, and a public hearing was held on April 10, 2020—just at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic scramble that led most businesses to send employees home to work. DCA states it received no comments.
The amended rules, which become effective on June 27, 2020, deal mainly with how debt collectors interact with LEP consumers. According to the rule's Statement of Basis and Purpose, debt collectors will be required to:
- Inform consumers—in any initial collection notice and on any public-facing websites maintained by the collector—of the availability of any language access services provided by the collector and of a translation and description of commonly-used debt collection terms in a consumer’s preferred language on the Department’s website;
- Request, record, and retain, to the extent reasonably possible, a record of the language preference of each consumer from whom the collector attempts to collect a debt; and
- Maintain a report identifying, by language, the number of consumer accounts on which an employee of the collector attempted to collect a debt in a language other than English, and the number of employees that attempted to collect on such accounts.
The amendment also includes a prohibition against:
- Providing false, inaccurate, or incomplete translations of any communication to a consumer in the course of attempting to collect a debt; and
- Misrepresenting or omitting a consumer’s language preference when returning, selling, or referring for litigation any consumer account, where the debt collector is aware of such preference.
The new rules as amended can be found here.
insideARM has learned that the glossary of terms referenced in the new rules is not yet ready for publication and that the Department does not plan to provide approved or model language for any of the disclosures. Also, as of the time of this publication, we could locate no details about the April 10th hearing regarding who testified, what was said, or whether or not it occurred virtually or live during NYC’s shelter in place order.
The insideARM Perspective
It's fairly clear why the Department received no comments on this proposed rule. The timeframe covered by this process coincided with the most intense period of the shutdown caused by the pandemic. While this is an important matter, there would have been no available bandwidth to provide thoughtful input.
Unless an extension for implementation is granted, this will certainly be a scramble for collection agencies that communicate with New York City consumers. But a note to creditors: This also requires new actions from you if you do not currently store, share, and receive language preferences --in a manner that is searchable and actionable-- with vendors working on your behalf.