UCD vets set debt collector on client in dispute over bill

Your consumer queries answered

Mon, May 6, 2013, 08:00

Last week a Dublin reader by the name of Stephen got a phone call from a debt collection agency in England called TNC collections.

Now there are few people in the world who like to get such calls but this one was particularly upsetting because of its bizarre nature.

“They told me I owed UCD veterinary hospital €120 from when I had my dog there on a visit in 2008. I was pretty sure I paid the bill at the time so I told that to the debt collection agency but they insisted that the money be paid, so I told them that I would contact the vets and then get back to them.”

So Stephen rang the accounts department in UCD Veterinary and told them that a debt collection agency had contacted him in connection with an unpaid bill. He says he was told that at the time he paid the full amount due “but there was a computer error” and the practice had undercharged him.

He says he was told he was not the only one to be undercharged and that the practice had handed all the debts to a debt collection agency.

“I told the person in the vets that I wasn’t going to pay the money because: (1) it wasn’t my fault that I was undercharged; (2) to have a debt collection agency ringing me tell me I had to pay and; (3) it was five years ago.

The vet’s practice came back with a counter-offer. “If I paid half the bill (€60) they would forget about the other half and call it quits. Needless to say I didn’t pay it and told them I would ring them back at the end of the week. Later on today [last Tuesday] I received yet another call from the debt collection agency asking me to make payment or “further” action will be taken, I got frustrated and hung up on them. I’m wondering what should I do? Ignore them and don’t answer their calls, answer their calls and just stand firm and not pay, or just give in and pay? Because I don’t know how far a debt collection agency can go in trying to get money from me.”

So we contacted the UCD Veterinary Hospital to find out what was going on and how it could stand over its actions.

We received a response which was very much at odds with what our reader had been told. In a statement the university said that the cost for the treatment received by his pet dog on two separate occasions at the veterinary hospital had been charged to his pet insurance.

“On both occasions, the insurance company paid the invoices but on both occasions there remained an excess of €60 due for payment by the client.”

The statement concluded by saying that following the payment of each of the invoices by the insurer the hospital had issued invoices for the €60 excess owed by the client.

We pressed for more information about how the hospital goes about employing the services of a debt collection agency and if it had told our reader that this was the course of action it was pursuing.

A spokesman said that under the terms and conditions of the contract it had with all those who engaged its services, the veterinary hospital “reserves the right to refer outstanding monies owed to a collection agency for servicing. In October 2012, all outstanding monies owed to the University Veterinary Hospital for treatment received between Jan 2008 and June 2012 were referred to a collection agency for servicing,” he said.

We were told that while the hospital “does endeavour to make direct contact by phone or by post with individuals who have outstanding monies owed to the hospital.

“However, it is unable to guarantee that on every occasion direct contact has been made with individuals before their outstanding monies owed are referred to a collection agency for servicing.”

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