UNPAID FINES AND DEBT COLLECTION

 

TYPES OF FINES 

PAYING OFF FINES 

DISPUTING A FINE 

TIME TO PAY 

Fine Option Program 

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT PAY MY FINE? 

OWING A DEBT: COLLECTION AGENCIES 

What are collection agencies? 

How do collection agencies work? 

Why do creditors use collection agencies? 

How are collection agencies regulated and licensed? 

LIMITATIONS ON COLLECTION AGENCIES 

Who do these rules apply to? 

Can a collection agency threaten to sue you? 

Can a collection agency take your property? 

Can collection agencies send you to jail? 

PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM COLLECTION AGENCIES 

Useful tips 

What should I do if I have been mistreated? 

REFERRAL NUMBERS 

 

TYPES OF FINES

 

Any level of government (the City, the Province, or the Federal Government) has the right to impose a fine as a punishment for an offence. Each level of government has different ways to ensure that the fines are paid.

 

City/Municipal fines are imposed when you have violated a city by-law (e.g., parking tickets and jaywalking tickets). These fines are handled by the City of Edmonton.

 

Provincial fines are imposed when you have violated a provincial law (e.g., speeding tickets, public intoxication, and hunting and wildlife violations). These fines are dealt with in the Traffic Division of Provincial Court by the Crown Prosecutor.

 

Federal fines are imposed when you have violated a federal law. Impaired driving, theft, assault, or any other criminal charge can result in a fine. In addition, many other federal statutes can impose fines (e.g., environmental statutes). These fines are dealt with in the Criminal Division of Provincial Court by the Crown Prosecutor.

 

PAYING OFF FINES

 

It is always in your best interest to pay off a fine as quickly as possible. This does not mean that all fines should be paid immediately after being charged. Any fine, including parking and speeding tickets, are owed at the time that you are found guilty, not at the time that the violation ticket is issued.  

 

Most city fines do not require a court appearance, but instead have a due date on them. If the fine is paid before the due date, then you are deemed to have entered a guilty plea, and the matter is resolved. 

 

If you have received a ticket for a moving (e.g., speeding) or non-moving (e.g., parking) offence, and you have not dealt with it by the due date on the ticket, you may be convicted in absence (found guilty). The overdue fine will then be transferred to the Motor Vehicles database where a late penalty charge will be added. This outstanding fine must be paid before any motor vehicle service can be performed for you. Outstanding fines can be paid at any registry agent office or online.

 

Many provincial violations and all criminal charges require a court appearance. If you plead guilty or are found guilty, the judge or commissioner will decide if a fine is appropriate, and if so, how much the fine will be.

 

 

DISPUTING A FINE

 

You have the right to dispute any charge brought against you and to require the government to prove its case against you in court.  

 

For City fines, you often have the opportunity to write in and appeal your ticket before taking it to court. In the City of Edmonton, your appeal can be submitted in writing to:

 

City of Edmonton,

Bylaw Ticket Administration

PO Box 2024

Edmonton, AB  T5J 4M6

 

Or by fax to (780) 496-5352.

 

You must include the ticket number, your name, and mailing address, along with a brief explanation of the circumstances regarding the ticket. Please include any applicable information such as permit number, police file number, etc. When your appeal is processed, it will be either approved or denied. If it is denied, you will be issued a new date of payment for your fine.

 

You can also plead not guilty to an offence. For city and provincial fines that do not require a court appearance, pleading not guilty should be done before the due date because you may be found guilty in absence. For offences that require a court appearance, you should show up for your court appearance and plead not guilty. Otherwise, you will receive a failure to appear and a warrant may be issued for your arrest. You will then need to set a new court date, and you may have to pay another fine for the failure to appear (see Student Legal Services’ Missing Your Court Dates pamphlet).  

 

 

TIME TO PAY

 

If you cannot pay the entire amount of the fine at the time you are found guilty, then you can ask for time to pay.

 

If you are in a Criminal Court, you ask the judge. If you have violated a Provincial statute or City by-law, you can ask the Justice of the Peace or Traffic Commissioner (whoever finds you guilty or accepts the plea).

 

In granting time to pay, the amount of the fine, severity of the offence, and your ability to pay are taken into consideration. Sometimes a set payment schedule will be imposed; other times there will be a date set to pay off the amount.

 

The most important thing to do is to start making payments as soon as possible. Even if you can only afford a little bit each week, start making payments as soon as you can. There are two main reasons for doing this:

  1. Paying small amounts over time will be easier than trying to save up all of the money on the due date.

  2. If the full amount has not been paid at the time it is due, it is possible to extend the time given to pay. An extension is at the discretion of the Court (the judge or traffic commissioner), and is more likely to be granted if some payment efforts have been made.

 

  1. Fine Option Program

If you cannot afford to pay your fine, you may enrol in the Fine Option Program. This program allows you to work off a fine by doing some type of community service work, which is paid at minimum wage.  

 

The Fine Option Program is operated by the provincial government, but can be used to pay City Fines, Provincial Fines, and Criminal Fines. However, you need to be subject to Days in Default to be able to apply for this program.

 

Make sure you apply before the due date for your fine! Otherwise, you will not be able to do the program.

 

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT PAY MY FINE?

 

This depends on who issued the fine in the first place, the amount of the fine, and the severity of the offence. Unpaid fines can result in a range of penalties.  

 

If you do not pay lesser fines (city by-laws and some provincial offences), then you may not be able to register a vehicle or renew a driver's license until the amounts are paid.  

 

If there are multiple violations or a large fine that has not been paid, there is a chance that a warrant will be issued, and you may be arrested and held in custody. 

 

Some unpaid fines may result in "Days in Default", which are the number of days you will spend in jail if the fine is not paid at the due date. 

 

Also, your unpaid fine may be sent to a collection agency.

 

 

OWING A DEBT: COLLECTION AGENCIES

 

  1. What are collection agencies?

A collection agency is a company that tries to collect money owed by people in debt. Your creditors—the people to whom you owe money—pay these agencies to recover the amounts you owe them. If you owe money to a company or a supplier and you have not recently sent in your payment, that company or supplier can turn your file over to a collection agency.

 

  1. How do collection agencies work?

Collection agencies are usually paid a flat fee or a commission for the debts they recover. Most companies (creditors)will try to collect a debt first (by sending past due notices, bills, or making phone calls) before hiring a collection agency.

 

The people who work for collection agencies and actually try to recover the debts are called collectors. Most collectors have at least part, it not all, of their salary paid on commission based on the amount of money they are able to recover. Since collection agencies and collectors are paid on commission, they are often more persistent and aggressive when trying to collect debts.

 

  1. Why do creditors use collection agencies?

Money. The bottom line is that it is cheaper for a company to hire a collection agency than it is to hire lawyers to sue debtors. Collection agencies may only get paid if they recover money, but lawyers charge by the hour.  

 

  1. How are collection agencies regulated and licensed?

Regulations differ slightly across Canada, so make sure you learn the specific rules that apply to collection agencies where you live. All collection agencies and collectors have to be licensed by the province and they are heavily regulated.

 

If you are contacted by a collector, you can ask for their license information, and can verify it with the government to make sure it is legitimate.

 

 

LIMITATIONS ON COLLECTION AGENCIES

 

The Fair Trading Act and the Collection and Debt Repayment Practices Regulation set out what collection agencies are not allowed to do to collect a debt. A collection agency or collector MAY NOT:

  1. Threaten or physically harm a debtor's friends or family.

  2. Try to collect the money by using a different name than what appears on their license. You have the right to know both the name of the collector and the name of the agency that the collector works for.

  3. Make arrangements with the debtor to collect less than the total debt owed as full and final settlement without prior written approval of the creditor. Collectors cannot tell you that they will accept part of the debt and leave you alone, unless they have permission to do so from the creditor.

  4. Make any personal call or telephone call for the purpose of collecting or attempting to collect a debt on any day before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m. in Alberta.

  5. Directly or indirectly threaten or state an intention to proceed with any action for which that collection agency or the collector does not have lawful authority. See below on whether or not collection agencies can sue you.

  6. Make telephone calls or personal calls of such nature or with such frequency as to constitute harassment of the debtor, the debtor's spouse, or any member of the debtor's family or household.

  7. Give any person, directly or indirectly, by implication or otherwise, false or misleading information.

  8. Continue to contact a person if that person has informed the agency that he or she is not the actual debtor, unless the collector takes all reasonable precautions to ensure that person is the debtor.

  9. Contact the debtor's employer, spouse, relatives, neighbours, or friends, unless the collection agency contacts the employer for the purposes of verifying employment or the contact is made for the purpose of obtaining the debtor's address or telephone number.

  10. Contact the debtor at the debtor's place of employment if the debtor requests that the collection agency or the collector not contact the debtor there. However, you must make other arrangements to discuss the debt, and you must keep those other arrangements.

  11. Discuss the debt with any person other than the debtor or creditor of the debt, unless the collector is trying to obtain information respecting the debtor.

  12. Indicate to the debtor or any person contacted by the collector that the collector is part of a law firm or the legal department of a business.

 

  1. Who do these rules apply to?

These rules only apply to collection agencies and collectors, and do not apply to businesses collecting their own debts, lawyers collecting a debt for a client, a civil enforcement agency or bailiff collecting a money judgment, or people working and licensed under the Insurance Act.

 

  1. Can a collection agency threaten to sue you?

Generally, no. Most creditors do not assign debts to collection agencies, but just contract with them to get the money. Therefore, the money is still owed to the original creditor, and the collection agency is just a way to recover the money. In this case, only the person or company you owe money to can sue you.

 

Assignment of a debt is different. By assigning a debt, the original creditor (for example, Visa) gives its legal rights regarding the debt to a third party (a collection agency). The third party then can act as if the debtor owed them the money in the first place. Assignments can be done as a gift, or in exchange for a fee.

 

The main difference in collecting a debt that has been assigned is that the collector has a right to sue to recover an assigned debt. If the debt has not been assigned, then the collector has no legal right to sue (or threaten to sue).

 

  1. Can a collection agency take your property?

Collection agencies can take property that has been put up as security (for example, using a car as collateral in order to get a loan). Property can be seized by a civil enforcement bailiff who works for a civil enforcement agency. A judgement from the court can also authorize a creditor to seize your property.

 

  1. Can collection agencies send you to jail?

No. The police do not become involved in debt collection.

 

 

PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM COLLECTION AGENCIES

 

Useful tips:

  1. Keep track of your debts. If you cannot pay a debt, contact your creditor early and try to arrange a payment schedule before they send it to a collection agency.

  2. You must be notified in writing that your file has been given to a collection agency. Don’t panic. The agency is trying to recover the money that you owe to your creditor.

  3. If possible, pay the amount you owe.

  4. If you cannot pay it all at once, contact the agency and explain.

  5. If you reach an agreement with the agency, get it in writing.

  6. Never send cash. Make sure that you get a receipt for your payment from the collection agency.

 

What should I do if I have been mistreated?

Get as much information as you can about the person collecting the debt (name, agency, collection license number) and contact the Alberta Government Services—Consumer Services Contact Centre: (780) 427-4088 or 1-877-427-4088 (toll-free in Alberta).

 

REFERRAL NUMBERS

 

Student Legal Services [780] 492-2226

www.slsedmonton.com 

 

Fine Option Program [780] 422-0359

 

Alberta Registries [780] 427-7013

www.e-registry.ca 

 

Lawyer Referral Service 1-800-661-1095

www.lawsocietyalberta.com/publicservices/lawyerReferralService.cfm

 

Legal Aid Society of Alberta [780] 427-7575

www.legalaid.ab.ca 

 

Traffic Court Clerk - Edmonton [780] 427-4724

 

Criminal Court Clerk - Edmonton [780] 427-7868

 

City of Edmonton Bylaw Ticket Inquiries [780] 496-5161

 

Alberta Government Services - Consumer Services Contact Centre [780] 427-4088

www.servicealberta.ca 

  

Money Mentors of Alberta 1-888-294-0076

www.moneymentors.ca

 

Alberta Law Line [780] 644-7777