Released every month our debt collection blog contains news, stories and tips to keep you informed.
Following on from last month where we looked at the AFCA Approach to Mortgagee Sales this month we look at the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) approach to Financial Difficulty - Early Release of Superannuation.
The purpose of this article is to summarise the approach AFCA have regarding the early release of superannuation and what lenders obligations are when considering a request from a consumer to support the early release of superannuation.
Grounds for Release
There are 2 primary circumstances where a consumer may apply for the early release of superannuation. These are due to several financial hardship or compassionate grounds (mortgage arrears). A consumer that has been in receipt of a Government support payment, such as Newstart Allowance, continuously for 26 weeks may be entitled to the early release of superannuation on the grounds of financial hardship. A consumer may access between $1,000 to $10,000 once a year and the application must be made directly to their superannuation fund. The payment can be utilised for any purpose and does not require the support of the FSP.
Where the application is being made on compassionate grounds (mortgage arrears) the process is administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). A consumers application to the ATO for payment of mortgage arrears will need a letter from their FSP stating that the amount is overdue and if the overdue amount is not paid by the due date the mortgagee will foreclose or force the sale of the consumers principal place of residence. More information is available from Access on Compassionate Grounds on the ATO website.
There is an expectation from AFCA that FSPs will consider alternatives rather than simply supporting a request for the release of superannuation as the release of superannuation is a last resort. AFCA expects FSPs to take appropriate steps to understand the consumers financial position, decide what assistance it can provide the consumer and communicate its decision to the consumer.
Factors to Consider
When considering if support should be given for the early release of superannuation the FSP, , should explore all alternative options -
Where it is apparent that the consumer can afford to continue with the contractual repayments but unable to clear the arrears the FSP may consider it more appropriate to capitalise the arrears.
Where the FSP is unable to determine if the consumer can meet their ongoing contractual obligations it may be more appropriate for the FSP to provide a reasonable moratorium period to allow the consumer time for their situation to improve.
Where it is clear that the consumer will be unable to meet their ongoing contractual obligations supporting a release for superannuation may not be appropriate as any release will only delay the inevitable. In certain situations it may be beneficial for the FSP to allow the consumer time to sell the security property which will preserve their superannuation and may offer some financial relief.
Failing to Meet Obligations
Where AFCA believe that the FSP has failed to meet their obligations AFCA may rule that the FSP has failed to meet financial difficulty obligations under the AFCA Rules. Where the consumer has suffered a financial loss AFCA may award compensation.
Where the FSP has supported an early release for superannuation that AFCA believe inappropriate they will generally not require the FSP to refund the superannuation monies or reimburse any tax paid as a result of the withdrawal of the funds as in most cases the consumer will have obtained the benefit of the funds and will have potentially saved on interest, fees and charges.
To learn more or to read this article in its entirety visit AFCA Approaches - Early Release of Super.
Disclaimer: This article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to be relief on in any way.
With the Government set to adopt all 76 changes recommended by the Royal Commission into Misconduct in Banking, including amending the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) Rules to accept disputes dating back to January 2008, it appears as though farmers will also benefit with the Commissioner calling for a national farm debt mediation scheme.
Both The Weekly Times and Beef Central are reporting that the Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has indicated that the Government would look at introducing a new farm debt mediation scheme which would require financiers not to charge default interest on agricultural loans in areas considered in drought or impacted by a declared natural disaster. Financiers would also be required to ensure that only those experienced in agriculture would manage distressed farm loans.
In the original interim report released by Commissioner Hayne he commented, "Properly used, however, mediation may allow the lender and the borrower to agree upon practical measures that will, or may, lead to the borrower working out of the financial difficulties that have caused the lender to treat the loan as distressed. Ordinarily, then, I consider that lenders should offer farm debt mediation as soon as the loan is classified as distressed. If used in conjunction with rural financial counselling services, early farm debt mediation should allow wider and better choices for the lender and borrower about servicing, and ultimately repaying the loan."
Fiona Simson, President of the National Farmers' Federation said, "The Royal Commission shone a bright light on Australia's banking sector, on which Australian farmers are heavily dependent. Justice Hayne's recommendations and the Government's affirmative response, has recognised the unique situations farm businesses often face and the always unequal playing field when negotiating with the big banks."
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, released a statement on his website which you can read here.
The NSW State Government has recently announced a new free online legal service to assist people who may be experiencing mortgage stress.
The LawAccess NSW website now provides 2 interactive guided pathways to match people with the information they may need to assist them in resolving issues surrounding mortgage stress or unpaid council rates with another 4 pathways on other topics to come online later this year.
Attorney General Mark Speakman said, "This service is arriving at a crucial time for families facing mortgage stress. The online pathways are convenient and easy to use, with users only needing to answer a few simple questions to get reliable legal information and practical solutions tailored to address their situation. For example, the mortgage stress pathways provide information on budgeting, seeking a ‘hardship variation’ to a loan and tips on avoiding ‘quick fix’ pitfalls that could ultimately cause greater financial pain."
The pathways are a new online resource which makes up part of the NSW Government's $24 million Civil Justice Action Plan which harnesses technology and innovation to make it faster and easier for people to navigate the Court system and resolve their legal issues. Other key aspects of the plan include:
- creating a $1 million Access to Justice Innovation Fund to encourage legal professionals, digital experts and community groups to develop ideas to improve the way legal problems are solved;
- allocating almost $20 million in new funds for community legal centres over the next 4 years;
- expanding the online Court services to allow more people to finalise their case from the convenience of their own PC;
- increasing the jurisdiction of the Local Court's Small Claims Division to hear disputes up to $20,000 (the current limit being $10,000); and
- introducing online guidelines to encourage local and State Government to resolve unpaid debts early including negotiating time to pay arrangements.
Learn more via the Guided Pathways site at LawAccess NSW.
A recent survey conducted by Mortgage Choice has shown that 25% of buyers do not understand what Lenders Mortgage Insurance (LMI) is.
Out of the 1,000 people who took part in the survey 8% thought that LMI protected them with almost 18% thinking that it protected both them and the lender. Buyers in the age bracket of 18-29 were the most likely not to know what LMI was with a higher proportion of women (45%) not knowing what LMI is versus 37% of men.
On a State by State comparison, Victoria had the highest proportion of buyers who did not know what LMI was (46%) followed by Queensland (40%), Western Australia (39.6%) with NSW the most knowledgeable State coming in at 34.6%
CEO for Mortgage Choice, Susan Mitchell, said in a statement, "For many first home buyers, LMI is likely to be a cost they have to pay to get into the property market, particularly if they do not have a deposit that is at least 20% of the purchase price. The reality is that saving for a home deposit is a major challenge for first home buyers and this has been the result of strong price growth over the last few years."
Ms Mitchell went on to say that it was concerning that a large proportion of Australians had either a limited or no understanding of LMI and that lenders should take an active role in educating borrowers.
For a detailed explanation as to what LMI is visit the Lenders Mortgage Insurance entry on Wikipedia.
As you may be aware the Financial Ombudsman Service ("FOS") periodically release and update documents to assist both consumers and Financial Service Providers ("FSPs") in how they come to the decisions that they do.
This month we have reviewed and re-produced an extract from the FOS Approach to Early Release of Superannuation which you can read below:
2.1 Grounds for Early Release of Superannuation
There are limited circumstances in which a person may apply for their superannuation to be released early to help meet their loan obligations. These are:
Severe Financial Hardship
A person who has received an eligible government support payment continuously for 26 weeks may be entitled to an early release of superannuation on the grounds of several financial hardship. On this basis, a person may access up to $10,000 once a year. To do so, they must obtain a supporting letter from DHS and then apply directly to their superannuation fund. The payment can be used for any purpose and the FSP's support is not required.
Compassionate Grounds for Mortgage Assistance
A person can apply for early release of superannuation on specific compassionate grounds. One of these is mortgage assistance to prevent the foreclosure of a mortgage, or the exercise of a mortgagee's power of sale over the person's principle place of residence. This process is administered by DHS. Foreclosure is rate, so this article focuses on the power of sale.
DHS may approve the release only if the borrower provides a written statement from the mortgagee that:
In our experience in dealing with mortgagee sales at LCollect we have found that it was not appropriate for the FSP to support an early release of superannuation because better alternatives were available or it was unlikely that any such release would assist the borrower in overcoming their financial difficulty. In almost all instances, where a FSP declined to support a release, we found that decision was appropriate.
Note: Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice. If in doubt you should seek your own proper, independent legal advice.
Several councils located in the Bowen Basin Local Government Area in Queensland are attempting to recoup $10 million in unpaid rates.
The Bowen Basin, which covers an area of approximately 600km long by 250km wide, extending from Collinsville to Moura, has been hit hard by the downturn in the mining industry with unpaid rates impacting heavily on council cash reserves. Mayor Kerry Hayes, of Central Highlands Regional Council based in Emerald, said, "At the moment we have about 16 properties we've indicated, and we've sent the letters out to those ratepayers ... this is the last course of action. As a council and as a business, if the money isn't coming in then obviously works and capital expenditure can't happen".
Pursuant to the Local Government (Finance, Plans and Reporting) Regulation 2010 properties can be sold by Council under s74:
74 Notice of Intention to Sell Land for Overdue Rates or Charges
(1) This section applies if--
(a) There are overdue rates or charges on land; and
(b) The liability to pay the overdue rates or charges is not the subject of court proceedings; and
(c) Some or all of the overdue rates or charges have been overdue for at least-
(i) Generally--3 years; or
(ii) If the rates or charges were levied on vacant land or land used only for commercial purposes, and the local government has obtained Judgment for the overdue rates or charges--1 year; or
(iii) If the rates or charges were levied on a mining claim--3 months.
(2) The local government may, by resolution, decide to sell the land.
(3) If the local government does so, the local government must, as soon as practicable, give all interested parties a notice of intention to sell the land.
(4) A notice of intention to sell is a document, signed by the chief executive officer, stating-
(a) That the local government has, by resolution, decided under this section to sell land for overdue rates or charges; and
(b) The day on which the resolution was made; and
(c) The terms of the resolution; and
(d) A description of the location and size of the land, as shown in the local government's land record; and
(e) Details of the overdue rates or charges for the land, as at the date of the notice, including details of the period for which the rates or charges have been unpaid; and
(f) Details of the interest that is owing on the overdue rates or charges, as at the date of the notice, including-
(i) Details of the rate at which interest is payable on the rates or charges; and
(ii) A description of the way the interest is calculated; and
(g) The total amount of overdue rates or charges and the interest, as at the date of the notice; and
(h) A copy, or a general outline, of sections 75 to 78.
Local Government Association of Queensland Chief Executive, Greg Hallam, said in a statement to ABC Capricornia, "For every person that doesn't pay their rates, another person has to pay for them, so it's not all equitable or ethical".
This article does is not intended to be, and does not constitute legal advice.
From 01/08/2016 in both New South Wales and Queensland, new identity requirements come into force.
In general terms, the changes mean that anyone signing a transfer of property on behalf of a mortgagee in possession must be identified. This will mean:
In our recent dealings with the Department of Human Services and a number superannuation funds concerning the release superannuation to stop a mortgage repossession, we learned some interesting anecdotal information:
What can we take from all this?
The implications for the Australian market as evidenced in Genworth's share price dropping is that there are now more options available to lenders for lenders mortgage insurance. Westpac was reportedly 12% of Genworth's book.
So what are the possible implications for mortgage default / lenders mortgage insurance claims moving forward?
Many lenders have noted the tightening of what LMI will pay out on, with a trend to very strict enforcement of all sub limits. With limited competition in the LMI industry, there were not many competitive forces in play. If this is the start of a trend to offshore LMI by the big four banks, it may give lenders more room to negotiates with LMI providers in the future and subsequently obtain better deals and less restrictive sub limits. This has the potential to save lenders thousands of dollars in LMI claims.
Many commentators have already identified the risks the the Australian LMI providers. QBE was about to list its LMI.
Watch this space.