Advertisement

Long-forgotten fines won't linger on credit records, city assures residents

Several Ottawa residents recently complained that old fines, some dating back decades, had recently been reported to their credit bureau, affecting their credit scores. After some confusion, the city and its debt collection agency have clarified that after the debt is paid, any record of it will be wiped clean.  (CBC - image credit)
Several Ottawa residents recently complained that old fines, some dating back decades, had recently been reported to their credit bureau, affecting their credit scores. After some confusion, the city and its debt collection agency have clarified that after the debt is paid, any record of it will be wiped clean. (CBC - image credit)

The City of Ottawa and one of its hired debt collection agencies say residents who have paid long-forgotten fines that recently resurfaced can expect to see all traces of the episode wiped from their credit reports.

Earlier this month, several Ottawa residents who saw their credit scores take an unexpected tumble said they later learned from Financial Debt Recovery (FDR) — a company tapped by the city in January to pursue outstanding debts — that unpaid parking tickets and other bills dating as far back as 2003 were to blame.

They complained the penalties came out of the blue, and said neither FDR nor the city had gotten in touch to warn them that their credit rating could take a hit if the fines remained unpaid.

Inconsistent communication from the city and FDR in the days that followed added to people's frustration, said Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo, who heard directly from some of the affected residents.

Lo said the city was telling residents their credit histories would be wiped clean once they paid up, while FDR was telling them a record of their late payments would remain on the record.

On Thursday, both the city and FDR clarified the matter in a joint one-line statement: "FDR will fully remove reporting on all accounts that have been paid," they said, with the city adding that the process could still take weeks.

City owed $50M

The city has said it's owed some $50 million in unpaid parking fines issued since 2003.

After being hired by the city in January, FDR reported 103,000 unpaid Provincial Offences Act fines to the credit bureau.

Lo said that while he has no issue with the principal of pursuing unpaid fines, he would have liked a heads-up from city staff about a new company being hired and the potential implications.

That way, "we can ask questions leading up to it [and] prepare so we have the information available if residents reach out," Lo said.

"In this case, what happened was when residents reached out ... I was left in the dark with no information."

In its statement, the city said it has been referring debt to private collection agencies for over 20 years, and that credit bureau reporting is a widely used method that can be effective "when contact information hasn't been updated."

The city added it's the responsibility of residents to update their address with the provincial offences courts.