Financial Counselling Australia, the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Consumer Credit Legal Centre have welcomed a new hardship package released by the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) today.
The package demonstrates a real commitment by the industry to improve hardship policies and practices and we appreciate the genuine consultation involved in its development. However, as a recent national survey of financial counsellors showed, there is definitely room for improvement. 
‘The Rank the Bank survey asked financial counsellors to rate the banks’ hardship programs out of ten – the fact that most rated the banks between four and six suggests this package is badly needed. It is why we want the banks to implement the hardship package effectively,’ said Fiona Guthrie of Financial Counselling Australia.
‘The ABA made a genuine effort to consult with financial counsellors and we think this has resulted in a better package. Increasing training for bank staff to ensure they’re aware of their responsibilities around hardship should improve consistency in how customers are treated. We particularly welcome the requirement that all banks will have a link to their hardship programs on the home page of their website,’ said Ms Guthrie.
‘Financial difficulty can happen to any of us,’ said Karen Cox, Consumer Credit Legal Centre. ‘Unexpected living expenses, job loss, illness, relationship breakdown or small business failure can all be catalysts for trouble. People in these situations are often in a very fragile state, so it’s important that they can feel comfortable in contacting the bank to seek assistance and they are treated with respect and understanding.’
Gerard Brody, CEO of Consumer Action, said the financial counsellors at his organisation had long held concerns over the consistency of bank hardship programs and that national guidelines would encourage better practice and improved consistency.
‘We were pleased to work with the ABA on its Hardship Guidelines and Fact Sheet, and we’re hopeful that struggling customers and their financial counsellors will soon notice a difference in how banks deal with hardship,’ said Mr Brody.
Free and independent financial counsellors are available by calling 1800 007 007.
The full details of the hardship package are set out on the Australian Bankers Association web site under Are you experiencing financial difficulty. They include
- a new industry guideline on dealing with ‘financial hardship’ cases
- a doing it tough consumer website
- various ‘industry commitments’