As we previously reported, section 301(b) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 permits an exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 for calls and text messages “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.”  Although the TCPA generally prohibits calls and text messages using automatic telephone dialing systems (“ATDS”) to wireless telephone numbers without the prior express consent of the called party, the 2015 bill amended the TCPA to allow such communications “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.”

In passing the Bipartisan Budget Act, Congress explicitly tasked the Federal Communications Commission with implementing the TCPA amendment by August 2016, which authorized the FCC “to restrict or limit the number and duration of calls” permitted under the new exception. On August 11, the FCC did just that, issuing an order limiting any such calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” without prior express consent to three per month.

The FCC also clarified other aspects of the exception, limiting such calls to those involving “debts that are delinquent at the time the call is made or to debts that are at imminent risk of delinquency.”  The debts must currently be owned or guaranteed by the federal government, and may only be made to the party “legally responsible for paying the debt.”  Three categories of wireless phone numbers may be contacted: (1) a “number the debtor provided at the time the debt was incurred;” (2) a “number subsequently provided by the debtor to the owner of the debt or the owner’s contractor;” and (3) a “number the owner of the debt or its contractor has obtained from an independent source.”

Importantly, collectors of such federally-backed debt must respect consumers’ requests to not receive further calls “at any point the consumer wishes  … .  [Z]ero federal debt collection calls are permitted once a debtor asks the owner of the debt or its contractor to cease federal debt collection calls.”  Given this “right to stop” and the three-call monthly limit, government contractors and holders of government-backed debt must maintain diligent compliance and not simply rely on the new exception as a shield against liability.

Troutman Sanders LLP has unique industry-leading expertise with the TCPA, with experience gained trying TCPA cases to verdict and advising Fortune 50 companies regarding their compliance strategies.  We will continue to monitor legislative changes and regulatory implementation of the TCPA in order to identify and advise on potential risks.