So you have received a letter of demand from Michael G Roper? This page explains how to respond to letters from Michael Roper. See also the other pages on this website (see links at left to navigate site),
Michael Roper is paid by Australian National Car Parks, Ace Parking, and Parking Patrols (Vic) to put his name at the top of letters sent to people whom the parking companies claim owe them money for parking fines.
This website explains options with handling demands issued by these companies withdrawn.
Lawyers representing parking companies often also include questionable material or threats. Take this letter which says that "if debt is not settled within 7 days, I am instructed to issue legal proceedings and this will be done without further notice to you". However, the person who received this letter four years ago has still not had legal action commenced against them. The ACCC Debt Collection Guidelines state that "you must not threaten legal action if the start of proceedings is not possible, not intended, or not under consideration, or you do not have instructions to start proceedings". You will also notice the address at the top of the letter - "209/137 Norton Street Leichhardt" is not Michael Roper's address at all. Michael Roper's address on the Law Society Register is "PO Box 3168 North Strathfield NSW 2137" (see the NSW Law Society Register). You will also note that the phone number at the top of the letter (02-8570-9297) is not Michael Roper's phone number shown on the Law Society Register. In fact if you ring 02-8570-9297 you do not get Michael Roper at all, rather, you get someone from Australian Recoveries and Collections (a debt collection company that was set up by Australian National Car Parks). Rule 41 of the NSW Law Society states that legal practitioners must display their practice address on all correspondence that displays their letterhead.
Finally, here is a third letter that bears Michael Roper's name. Notice how at the top right hand corner it specifically says "Please direct communication to our client's agent: c/ Australian Recoveries & Collections Pty Ltd", Locked Bag 2000 Annandale NSW 2038". NSW Law Society "Rule 35 - Debt collection or mercantile agencies" states that "A practitioner must not allow the practitioner's business name or stationery to be used by a debt collection, or mercantile, agent in a manner that is likely to mislead the public". Again, you will notice the address "209/137 Norton Street Leichhardt" at top, which is not Michael Roper's. And you will see it says "please direct communications to our client's agent c/o Australian Recoveries and Collections". This letter also says "if payment of this debt is not made within fourteen days (14) of the date of this letter, instructions will be sought from Australian National Car Parks to instigate legal proceedings to collect the debt". Most people who read this think that if they do not pay the debt within 14 days, that legal action will automatically be taken against them. However, if you read this very carefully, it says "instructions will be sought". In other words, they do not have instructions from their client yet to take legal action. But it appears to the legally untrained person that legal action will occur because it has "Legal Action Pending" in red at the top of the letter. Another problem with the letter is that, following the statement where it says that instructions will be sought, it says "this will be done without further notice to you and may result in judgement being entered against you". However, judgement couldn't be entered against you without further notice, since the car owner would have to be served with court documents first, and they would then have the opportunity to defend themselves. Many people I have spoken to have been confused by these statements.
We know that a large portion of the "work" that Michael G Roper performs for Australian National Car Parks is "ghost" work. That is, Michael G Roper's post office box which is not owned or operated by himself. Australian National Car Parks and/or Australian Recoveries and Collections collect the return mail at this post office box that is sent to Michael G Roper and they bank the cheques or process any letters. NSW Law Society rule 41 states that a lawyer must state his practice address on their letterheads. There are also privacy considerations here as well, because a person from outside Mr Roper's office is seeing your mail that you sent in confidence to Michael Roper.
As well as the above, complaints have been made to the NSW Office of Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs Victoria and the NSW Legal Services Commissioner, that Michael G Roper has not complied with ACCC Debt Collection Guidelines. Specifically, the complaints allege that:
I have written evidence, that when an alleged debtor formally denied parking in the ANCP car park, ANCP's solicitor Michael G Roper wrote to the debtor and told them that their stance would force him to take an action of preliminary discovery against the person in order to find out who drove the car into the carpark. Michael G Roper said in the same letter that "costs would be awarded against you". ANCP are legally permitted to take a preliminary discovery action against the owner of the car to find out who was driving, but there is no justification in saying that costs would be awarded against the owner because they wouldn't be. The owner would be a witness and the witness would receive costs to appear. We got the opinion of a Victorian Barrister - Sean Hardy - who said that "I cannot think of a circumstance when costs would be awarded against a witness in preliminary discover action".
Michael G Roper is also the lawyer for Ace Parking. In the Supreme Court Case of Consumer Affairs Victoria versus Ace Parking, Ace Parking were found by the Supreme Court to have engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct, and coercion, for making illegal threats. Such threats can put a feeling of compulsion on a person who does owe a debt to pay it, because it can be perceived as attempting to negate choice on the matter. i.e. the person had better pay the payment notice (even though they didn't incur it), because otherwise they will have to pay court costs in a preliminary discover action.
Contacting Michael Roper
Contacting Michael Roper used to be impossible. Emails were never returned, phone calls never answered, voice mails never returned and letters never acknowledged or returned. Following complaints to the Legal Services Commissioner about this conduct, Michael Roper recently set up a new phone number and employed an office manager. His office manager Jennifer Smith can be contacted on (02) 9553-4467 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
NSW Legal Services Commissioner Annual Reports reports on debt collection practices by lawyers
In the NSW Legal Services Commissioner's 2010-2011 Annual Report (http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/olsc/ll_olsc.nsf/vwFiles/2010_2011_OLSC_AnnRep.pdf/$file/2010_2011_OLSC_AnnRep.pdf) it says "Large debt collection firms employ lawyers to deal exclusively with the debt collector. This reporting year we have had a number of examples of correspondence being sent on a legal letterhead drafted by employees of debt collection companies and not checked or monitored by the law firm".
It goes on to say that a standard letter of demand may not, therefore, consider all of the complexities associated with the debt. The report says that the commissioner is concerned where a law firm’s letterhead used by an unauthorised person from the debt collection agency could be seen to intimidate. "What if there is a mistake? What if the debt collector fails to inform the law firm of a late payment or a dispute over the debt? To what extent is the legal practitioner responsible for dealing with any complaints that arise?".
The Commissioner's report says these are the type of questions that can arise where the supervisory structure in debt collection matters is inadequate. "Legal practitioners need to have in place clear communication mechanisms with debt collectors to guarantee complaints are dealt with promptly and practically" the report says. "They need to ensure they can be contacted via the letterhead on the correspondence seeking repayment rather than funnelling callers back through the debt collector. They also need to ensure that correspondence consists not of standard paragraphs but precise and accurate indications of what is expected and clear directions to the respondents to satisfy the debt".
In the 2002-2003 Annual Report (http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/olsc/ll_olsc.nsf/vwPrint1/OLSC_ar0203) the Commissioner says that "In response to an increasing number of complaints about the conduct of legal practitioners acting for debt collection companies, the OLSC prepared policy guidelines to efficiently manage and resolve such complaints".
It goes on to say that "the policy identifies certain key areas of responsibility for legal practitioners when acting for debt collection companies. Solicitors are obliged to conduct their dealings with third parties with the same standards of honesty and fairness that are required when dealing with other legal practitioners and the courts. Legal practitioners must not surrender their own integrity or honesty and simply become a mouthpiece for their client. Regulatory provisions prohibit false or misleading statements being made by legal practitioners as well as prohibiting harassment.
See also Navigating the Debt Collection Minefield.
Disclaimer: the author of this website is not a lawyer and this site does not constitute legal advice. The content contained within this website reflects the personal views and opinions of the author. Only a court, tribunal or the legal services commission can make a finding that a lawyer engaged in illegal or unprofessional conduct. This site lists areas of concern, but does not make any assertion that a lawyer acted illegally or unprofessionally.
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