Case studies have been provided by financial counsellors in WA. ‘They’ refers to the financial counsellor/s who assisted the client.
Names have been changed.
‘Peter’ fell down the stairs at his Department of Housing apartment because of some serious health issues. When he contacted a financial counsellor he was on Access Housing’s waiting list and had a utility debt of around $200 which had been handed over to debt collectors. The financial counsellor negotiated with the utility, which granted an extension on the account until the client moved into his new property. Peter could seek assistance for the bill once he had moved into his new place. They also negotiated for another utility bill of $40 to be waived.
‘Andrea’ was wheelchair-bound and wanted to walk at her daughter’s wedding. Orthotics were $380 and too expensive for her, so she contacted the Helpline for assistance. Andrea was unable to meet with her local financial counsellor in person because of her condition. Her medications caused drowsiness and confusion. She was suicidal, suffered post-traumatic stress from an injury at her workplace, and had high ongoing medical costs. The financial counsellor conducted all sessions with Andrea through phone calls and emails, and successfully applied to Senior Assistance Service (SAS) for financial assistance.
‘Nathan’ contacted the Helpline following a combination of ill health and a serious workplace accident which left him unable to work. His wife was recovering from a kidney operation was unable to work. Nathan had not yet received workers compensation and at the time they contacted the Helpline, the couple were ineligible for Centrelink. Bills, including utilities and medical, were piling up. The Helpline supported the couple with an application for funds from total permanent disability insurance and provided what immediate assistance was possible, such as telephone vouchers to help with phone bills. Nathan was also given information on the early release of superannuation, Centrelink entitlements and was referred to legal services.
‘Mark’ worked interstate FIFO until he was retrenched. Although he was entitled to a payout of $22,000, Mark had not received it because his employer was debating his status as ‘employee’ or ‘subcontractor’. As a result of his sudden unemployment, Mark was in default on his two mortgages, one of which was tenanted. Mark did not know when he would be able to find work again, and knew that because the outcome and length of the legal battle with his employer was uncertain, he would not be able to keep the properties. He requested help to navigate bankruptcy and deal with his lenders.
The financial counsellor provided Mark with options including his right to negotiate more time with the bank to enable him to sell the property, gave him information on bankruptcy and referred him to a legal service. Mark was confident he could now deal with his lenders himself.
‘Cathy’ was a 55-year-old woman who had been partially blind since a domestic violence incident several years ago. She had been diagnosed with a mental illness and had physical illnesses and disabilities. She lived in an isolated country town and lacked the funds to fix her vehicle. Cathy received a Newstart Allowance (on work exemption) and had a mortgage, although the property was on the market. She came to the Helpline with significant credit, debt and utility issues.
The Helpline negotiated with the creditors and was able to get a grace period on repayments of arrears until Cathy’s property was sold. Once the property was sold she was able to keep nearly $100,000. The Helpline provided Cathy with details of the local financial counselling service for ongoing support and assistance.
‘James’ contacted the Helpline after his power was disconnected for an overdue amount close to $4,500. He had thought the account was still in his ex-partner’s name and she was paying the electricity bill as part of their private child support agreement. A year ago he discovered she had closed and finalised the account when she moved out around three years before. James had set up an account and received an initial bill of nearly $4,000. He had since struggled to maintain payment arrangements and had been threatened with disconnection many times.
The Helpline contacted the utility and registered a complaint, which resulted in an investigation into James’s liability for the debt. The utility’s credit management team decided to fast-track the outcome, resulting in James being charged for one year’s worth of usage and the back-dating of concessions for his three children. Over $3,000 was cleared from James’s accounts in time for Christmas.
‘Elise’ contacted a financial counsellor after her hours were cut to part-time. She had defaulted on a loan with a bank and the debt collectors to whom the debt was sent were harassing her. She had made an offer of $100 per week, which was declined. She had also recently bought, with the help of a loan from a different bank, a second-hand car through a car dealer. The car had broken down on her way home and it was being repaired. Elise requested information on how to stop the debt collectors harassing her and if she could swap the car for another one.
The financial counsellor informed Elise of her rights under Australian Consumer Law and the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, which might have entitled her to a repair, refund or replacement. Under the warranty, a dealer must repair all defects which make or are likely to make the car un-roadworthy. Elise was referred to Consumer Protection and Legal Aid, regarding the actions of the debt collector.
‘Collin’ was a successful small business operator who decided to expand and create a Company, with himself as sole director.Over a 6 year period, Collin became unwell and failed to pay his taxes to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). This resulted in a liability worth over $150,000.00. Collin suffered with severe depression and was admitted to a Mental Health Unit for care and treatment.
Collin and his family met with a financial counsellor prior to leaving the unit, as it was identified he needed to address his financial concerns as part of the treatment for his mental health condition. It was during that initial interview the full extent of how Collin’s illness had contributed to his financial problems became apparent. During his period of illness and prior to receiving appropriate care, Collin had purchased and sold over 24 different vehicles. His only asset at this point was a vehicle under finance.
After leaving the care of the Mental Health Unit, Collin attended further appointments with the financial counsellor. He was unemployed, receiving Newstart and ongoing support from his Mental Health Team. Collin’s bank account had a significant negative balance as the ATO had issued a Garnishee Notice and the bank was re-directing all of his Newstart payments.The options available to deal with the substantial debt were limited for Collin, but the financial counsellor nevertheless was able to negotiate a satisfactory outcome over several months. This resulted in reducing his stress and financial pressure so he could focus on his recovery.
The financial counsellor, with supporting documents, was able to negotiate with the ATO to remove the Garnishee Notice. This meant the ATO debt was no longer seen as a secured debt and Collin had the option to petition for Bankruptcy. The ATO then dealt with Collin’s bank to refund previous withdrawals.