If you’re dealing with the impact of the bushfires, there are practical ways your bank can help
Australian banks have hardship teams ready to assist you with your financial arrangements, depending on your circumstances.
Assistance could include:
- deferring loan payments,
- waiving fees and charges,
- helping with debt consolidation,
- waiving penalties for early withdrawal of a term deposit or
- deferring upcoming credit card payments and increasing emergency limits
Contact details if you’re doing it tough
Find your bank’ s financial hardship teams on the web or on the phone below.
A downloadable list is also available here.
How your bank can help if you’re having money troubles
Banks want to help their customers, especially if they’re experiencing financial difficulties. Depending on your circumstances, banks may be able to assist in a variety of ways.
What is financial hardship?
Financial hardship occurs when you’re unable to meet your existing financial obligations for a period of time. It may be caused by a number of factors, such as unforeseen weather events, a major change in your circumstances, such as illness or injury, or a change in employment.
What can your bank do?
If you find yourself experiencing financial difficulties, you should talk to your bank. The earlier you let them know that you’re experiencing financial difficulties, the more options that may be available to help you.
What are some hardship assistance options?
Hardship arrangements cover the time between when your circumstances change and when you can start repaying your debts in full or varied as agreed. In most cases, people just need some temporary help to get them through the tough times.
The arrangements available will depend entirely on your personal circumstances and financial situation. But some measures may include:
- deferring or reducing loan repayments
- restructuring and consolidating loans
- altering loan repayments to interest-only
- changing limits on lines of credit (e.g. credit card)
- waiving certain fees and charges
- waiving penalties for early withdrawal of a term deposit
- freezing loans in exceptional circumstances, such as after an emergency event or natural disaster
- providing a moratorium on collections action
- providing alternative banking arrangements.
When considering the type of assistance that might be appropriate, banks will assess the situation on a case-by-case basis and consider your specific circumstances.
You can also phone the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 or visit the National Debt Helpline website.
What can you do?
Take a close look at your income and expenses so you understand how much you can afford to repay on your loans.
You should also contact your other creditors, including your gas, electricity and phone or Internet service provider, to discuss your situation.
If you’d like your bank to help, you should call or email them and let them know your current circumstances and that you would like to be given some hardship assistance.
When you call your bank, ask to speak to the “financial hardship team”.
Remember: It’s important to be open and honest about your personal circumstances and financial situation so your bank can determine if, and how, it can help you. Make sure you only offer to pay what you can afford after you’ve considered your overall living expenses.
Your bank may ask you for some information to help assess your financial situation. This allows your bank to understand your circumstances and lets you explain how things have changed and whether you expect them to improve in the future.
The type of information your bank will need could include: evidence of your financial position (income, expenses, assets and liabilities), evidence of employment and income and evidence of any medical circumstances.
If your bank offers a hardship arrangement and you accept, you’ll need to make sure you meet your side of the agreement. The bank will provide you with details of the arrangement and, if applicable, a new repayment plan.
If you can’t meet the terms of the new repayment plan, you should contact your bank as soon as possible and discuss the situation. Keep a record of all discussions with your bank.
What are your rights?
There are three key frameworks that govern how banks can provide hardship assistance to their customers:
1. The National Credit Code (schedule to the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009)
2. The Code of Banking Practice
3. The Australian Government’s hardship principles.
Where to go for more information
ASIC’s ‘MoneySmart’ website provides information and tools to help you make the most of your money. See www.moneysmart.gov.au.
If you wish to seek advice from a professional financial counsellor about your options contact Financial Counselling Australia’s www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au or phone toll-free on 1800 007 007. Financial Counselling Australia coordinates the National Debt Helpline (NDH), which consists of a national phone service operating under the 1800 007 007 number and is complemented by the National Debt Helpline website.
Rural Financial Counselling Services (RFCS)
Talk to a rural financial counsellor. It is a free service. Call 1800 686 175 – they will refer you to your nearest Rural Financial Counselling office. The RFCS website can be found here.
Australian Financial Complaints Authority
If you’re not satisfied with the support your bank has provided, you’ve got the right to lodge a complaint with your bank and with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA), www.afca.org.au or phone toll-free on 1800 931 678.
AFCA is an independent complaints scheme that is free. It generally won’t deal with your dispute unless you’ve first given the bank the chance to resolve things.
ABA’s Financial Hardship Package
The ABA’s financial hardship package consists of:
- Industry guideline on financial hardship – updated in November 2016, this provides practical guidance on how banks can support customers in ways that meet and, in some areas, exceed their existing legal and Code of Banking Practice obligations.
- The guideline outlines a framework for banks that balances standardised access to financial hardship assistance with the need for flexibility when responding to customers’ individual circumstances. It includes standardised forms, developed in consultation with Financial Counselling Australia, to simplify processes for financial counsellors acting on behalf of customers. The forms include a Statement of Financial Position and Financial Counsellor Authorisation Form.
- The guideline covers how banks can promote greater awareness of the hardship assistance and support they offer through branch disclosure and the training provided to their staff, particularly their specialist teams set up to work with customers experiencing financial difficulty.
- Customer fact sheet on financial hardship – this fact sheet provides consumers with information about financial hardship, including the options available and the steps involved in seeking hardship assistance.
- A list of phone numbers and websites for the financial hardship teams at each bank.
The package not only assists banks meet their legal obligations and the provisions in the 2013 Code of Banking Practice, but also to go beyond these obligations and reflect industry commitments to promote best practice across the banking industry.