On June 10, 2016, the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC's) Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) issued its recommendations to the Commission regarding regulations to implement the government debt collection exemption to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). After first discussing concerns regarding the new exemption (including difficulty with private enforcement and the potential for increased instances of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impersonation and other fraud), the CAC recommended that the Commission include the following consumer protection provisions in its rules to implement the exemption:
- Calls pursuant to the exception would only be permitted to be made to the debtors themselves, not to family, friends or others, including employers;
- The rule would apply to texts as well as to calls to cell phones;
- Calls would be allowed only when related to delinquent or defaulted debt, and only related to the debt status, and no telemarketing messages would be permitted to be included;
- The number of allowed calls or texts made pursuant to the proposed rule is limited to three calls per month, per servicer or collector and each initiated call would count as one call;
- Callers would be required to honor a request for the calls to stop;
- Callers would be required to notify consumers of their right to request that calls stop;
- The rule proposes to apply limitations in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to the permissible time of calls covered by the rule (8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.);
- The rule would only permit calls to be made under the exception for debts currently owed to or guaranteed by the United States, so that calls to collect these debts after they have been sold to independent third parties would not be permitted without consent;
- The same rules for wrong number calls, such as to reassigned numbers, as was required by the FCC's 2015 Omnibus Order would apply to calls made pursuant to this rule (this permits only 1 wrong number call).
The CAC further recommended that the Commission clarify the exemption in its rules by “requir[ing] that callers must have documented rationale for believing that a particular phone number belongs to the debtor being called or texted by the debt collector or servicer.” Finally, the CAC advised the FCC to consult with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to “coordinate definitions for terms and protections across the debt collection landscape."
In addition to the CAC recommendations, the FCC received initial feedback on its proposed rules to implement the government debt collection exemption on June 6. The proposals generally were well received by the FTC, members of Congress, and consumer advocacy groups, while loan servicing stakeholders contend the proposed rules are too strict. Reply comments on the proposals are due on June 21, 2016.