Clerical error left Brisbane couple in financial limbo for years after they were listed as debtors
Brisbane couple Tim and Nicki McDavitt’s credit history was ruined by a typo. (ABC News: Josh Bavas)
One small clerical error left a Brisbane couple battling to clear their names for almost two years, despite repeated calls for authorities to help.
- Nicki and Tim McDavitt were mistakenly listed as debtors after a civil claim
- The error caused them significant financial problems and there was no easy way to fix it
- The court and Department of Justice have since investigated and apologised
The typo left Nicki and Tim McDavitt in financial limbo, listing them in court documents as debtors instead of creditors and threatening their financial reputation.
Nicki McDavitt, who ironically works as a financial consultant, said she first thought it was a scam but was devastated when she realised the gravity of the situation.
“I felt abused to be honest. I couldn’t talk to anybody — nobody would listen to me,” Ms McDavitt said.
“I’ve actually helped quite a few clients get wrong judgements taken off their credit files, I couldn’t even fix my own.”
Small civil claim turns into financial distress
The trouble began in late 2015 when the McDavitts won a case against a door manufacturer over a renovation gone wrong, which left their home unsecured for almost a year.
When the manufacturer initially failed to pay what was owed, as decided by Queensland’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal, instead of having a court enforcement notice against him, the McDavitts had their name put down as the debtors.
They only became aware several months later after being contacted by a credit repair agency.
A public servant accidently listed the couple as debtors instead of creditors. (ABC News: Josh Bavas)
Mr McDavitt said he tried to call the Brisbane Magistrates Court where the documents were lodged, in a bid to fix it.
“I was on the phone for about two hours and talked to half a dozen different people,” he said.
“They checked the records and said it was all correct. Then from there it was such a drawn-out process.”
He said the decision had significant financial ramifications.
“American Express contacted me out of the blue and said, ‘we’re cancelling your card because we’ve just seen on a credit reporting agency that you have a court ordered judgement against you.”
Court apologises for error
The couple appealed to the Brisbane Magistrates Court and Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath for help.
Court registrar Craig Chapman wrote to the couple in August 2016, apologising and explaining the error.
Mr Chapman said the mistake was most likely made during an “electronic transfer of information” from QCAT to the Brisbane Magistrates Court, adding it was not picked up by a registering officer who was supposed to check the data.
“I apologise for the efforts that you had to undertake in order to be able to communicate this error to the various staff members with whom you spoke with at this registry,” he wrote.
“This was entirely inappropriate.”
The registrar told the McDavitts he personally telephoned three credit agencies who collected Queensland court data.
However, as late as December 2017, the couple were still running into problems after being declined credit when they were flagged by a third-party credit agency.
Even court staff admitted they had trouble clearing the matter up at the time.
Who gets public court data and where does it go?
While the couple hopes the records have finally been set straight, they’re still trying to find out how personal information is shared with third parties through the court system.
Mr McDavitt said repeated attempts under Right to Information have failed.
“Information is being released out through these credit-reporting agencies and going to who knows where — there doesn’t seem to be any system in place to make sure that the information that’s going out is accurate,” he said.
“Then as we found out, once you determine that the information isn’t accurate, there’s no process or system in place to retrieve the information back.
“If it’s happened to us, how many … has it happened to and they don’t know about it?”
The department has thoroughly investigated and contacted credit agencies. (ABC News: Julie Hornsey)
‘Very rare incident’: Department of Justice
ABC News contacted the Attorney-General with a series of questions.
A spokesman said the department had apologised for the error but said it was “a very rare incident”.
“We have thoroughly investigated this and we contacted all credit agencies we engage with directly at the time and ensured all records were corrected and updated,” he said.
“The department has taken action and reviewed its procedures and training for staff to ensure a similar error did not occur again.
“The issue that arose since then relates to a sub-agency of a credit agency providing outdated information, which was beyond the department’s control.”
Shadow Attorney-General David Janetzki said the debacle was unacceptable.
“There is a major difference to being a debtor and a creditor and for a clerical nature of such magnitude to pass through undetected is very concerning,” he said.
“The McDavitts have gone through quite an ordeal, they have had their lives turned upside down.
“For it to take months for the clerical error to be investigated and to get the attention that it deserves is completely unacceptable.
“I think it’s appropriate that the McDavitts receive every piece of information that is lawfully possible to give them.”