Today, Consumer Action Law Centre has launched an online form to enable people to share their experiences of financial hardship during the Covid-19 emergency. The goal is to help track the severity and breadth of financial hardship during the crisis, and assess the effectiveness of government and industry responses.The form can be accessed here.
Consumer Action CEO Gerard Brody says it is important people who are doing it tough have ways for their voices to be heard during the Covid-19 crisis.
“The lived experience of families across Australia should inform Government policy and industry responses to financial hardship,” Brody says.
Brody says the worst is yet to come in terms of the impact of Covid-19 on household finances, and anticipates a spike in calls to the Centre’s financial counsellors and lawyers as government and industry relief measures are wound back.
“We are urging government and industry to ensure people are adequately supported and remain connected to essential services even if they’re struggling to pay the bills during this health crisis,” says Brody.
“We need to make sure that people don’t come out the other end of this crisis with huge accumulated debts. Proactive hardship measures supporting the community must remain, otherwise people will be facing harsh debt recovery, disconnection or worse down the track,” he says.
Consumer Action joined with more than 60 community groups in March to call on essential services providers to keep people connected during Covid-19 crisis.
The groups asked lenders, telecommunication providers and energy retailers to commit to the following to provide relief for their customers:
- No disconnections
- Pause debt collection and legal/bankruptcy proceedings
- Waive penalty and late fees, including additional interest charges.
As restrictions begin to ease, Consumer Action is also encouraging lenders and industry to take steps to ensure debts do not accumulate to unmanageable levels. For example, by offering flexible and proactive hardship assistance, ensuring barriers to accessing assistance are removed (such as removing onerous evidence requirements to ‘prove’ hardship), and waiving debts that can never be repaid.