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ASIC releases financial hardship rep

Written on the 7 May 2009

ASIC, in conjunction with Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV), has released a report examining how lenders and mortgage brokers respond to borrowers experiencing financial difficulties.

The report, Helping home borrowers in financial hardship (REP 152), found that while some lenders are responding well to the needs of their customers, there is generally room for improvement and provides guidance to industry on how to improve practices.

‘This report highlights the importance of industry taking an active role in dealing with hardship’, said ASIC’s Senior Executive Leader, Deposit Takers, Credit and Insurance Providers, Mr Greg Kirk.

‘With forecasts of growing unemployment, we can expect to see increasing numbers of borrowers experiencing mortgage stress. In many cases, however, financial difficulties will be temporary, allowing problems that arise to be resolved.’

‘It’s important that lenders and intermediaries have processes and procedures in place to provide constructive responses to financial hardship. These include procedures to identify customers in hardship, to provide clear and timely information to customers on their right to seek relief, and to engage sufficiently with a customer’s circumstances in order to provide appropriate and flexible assistance’, said Mr Kirk.

The report found that:

Information about financial hardship is usually only provided following payment default, making it very difficult for borrowers to take positive action at an early stage. Equally concerning, this information is often insufficient for borrowers to understand their options and make informed choices;
Some lenders do very little to identify borrowers who may require hardship assistance. Many lenders leave this identification of need to collection officers who may not be trained for the purpose eg. one lender only identifies hardship where the borrower raises the need for assistance themselves;
Lenders appear to prefer offering short-term assistance, such as a three month payment moratorium, rather than genuinely engaging with, and responding to, a borrower’s specific situation. For example, a home loan borrower who has lost income through reduced overtime may need their loan to be extended with lower repayments over a longer period. In such circumstances, a short moratorium is a very temporary fix leaving the borrower likely to default when repayments resume;
Some lenders have adopted policies that are inconsistent with the rights and remedies available to borrowers under the Uniform Consumer Credit Code. For example, by refusing hardship assistance once payments are more than 60 days overdue or limiting any variation in repayments to a maximum period of six months; and
Despite clear industry standards mortgage brokers generally have a limited understanding of their role in responding to financial hardship. While most brokers say they offer assistance, there is little evidence of formal policies and procedures to ensure it is done effectively or constructively.

‘This report examined industry practices as at late 2008 and there are already moves within some sectors to improve. On 5 April 2009, the Federal Treasurer announced an agreement with the four major banks wherein they commit to assist borrowers who are experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the global recession’, Mr Kirk said.

‘ASIC is confident industry will welcome the guidance provided by the report, and we’ll continue to work with them to promote better outcomes for borrowers.’

‘Helping home borrowers in financial hardship’ also provides guidance for borrowers. Further information for borrowers is also available on ASIC’s consumer website, FIDO, at www.fido.asic.gov.au.

Victorian borrowers are also encouraged to visit the Consumer Affairs Victoria website (www.consumer.vic.gov.au) for publications that can assist them in dealing with their credit providers. These publications explain the rights and responsibilities of both lenders and borrowers in Victoria.

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