Elisha Mathews’ world collapsed around her in 2014. She and her husband divorced (“he thought it was OK to put all his money in a poker machine”) and she discovered that she was liable for his business loan that she could not service.
At the same time, Mathews was diagnosed with a neurological condition, unable to work and supporting herself and her two children on a disability pension.
She was forced into bankruptcy, yet had an agreement with her bank that she was not liable for repayments on the business loan. The bank, however, incorrectly assigned the alleged debt to Panthera who set about collecting it.
Mathews, who lives in Brisbane, was pursued for 12 months by Panthera over an alleged $800 debt she did not owe. Her case is not among the 100 listed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) because she has never lodged an official complaint.
“Every time I spoke to them they insisted the debt was legitimate,” Mathews recalls. “I tried to explain to them what had happened. They said it wasn’t their problem.”
Mathews says the calls from Panthera continued. “I started researching online about what to do about debt collectors and I ended up quoting the legislation back to them. When they called me I would say to them: ‘you’re not allowed to call me this often’. They would say ‘we didn’t get a resolution from you so yes we can’. They didn’t really care.”
Mathews says Panthera’s call centre staff were “very abrupt, very assertive and on several occasions they were borderline abusive”.
“They tried to belittle me. It was very degrading and very frustrating.”
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It took close to two years for Panthera to accept that the bank had made a mistake and that Elisha Mathews did not owe any money.
“I got to the point where I told them I was suicidal over this. And that’s what it took for them to actually stop and listen.”
Panthera declined to comment on Elisha Mathews’ case.