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Unfair Financial Difficulty Policies

Friday, March 29, 2019 - Posted by Michael McCulloch

Case Study - Unfair Financial Difficulty Policies

Issue: There were concerns that a bank's financial difficulty policies and procedures for its home loans were not compliant with section 72 of the National Credit Code (NCC), clause 28 of the Code of Banking Practice (CBP), and the AFCA Approach to Financial Difficulty.

The financial firm’s hardship policies prevented it from offering hardship solutions if a customer had been in long term financial difficulty and had previously failed to adhere to hardship agreements, or where the period of delinquency was significant. This means the financial firm refused to consider options such as a serviceability test followed by a capping arrangement, and instead focused on alternative repayment options which were unaffordable in light of the circumstances.

Outcome: Following our identification of the issue, the financial firm updated its hardship policy to offer more sustainable solutions. This included having practical discussions with customers experiencing financial difficulty to assist them to overcome their hardship.

The firm also offered capping arrangements for investment properties on a case by case basis. Training was provided to the firm’s hardship team to ensure that the updated policies were implemented correctly.

Application: Policies should not automatically exclude a customer from receiving hardship solutions due to long term hardship and issues such as high arrears or long periods of delinquency. Instead, financial firms should assess each request for assistance on an individual basis, and place an emphasis on the customer demonstrating their ability to service the loan.

If a customer has a positive change in circumstances that allows them to restart payments on a loan, they could be offered a repayment trial followed by capitalisation of arrears – the repayment trial could be the usual minimum monthly payment (MMP), interest only payments or loan term extension with reduced MMP.

Alternatively, if the customer has received hardship assistance over an extended period and they are still unable to meet the repayment schedule, then it may be appropriate to decline further hardship assistance, but instead consider other options such as a timeframe to permit the asset to be sold to repay the debt.

This article originally appeared in AFCA News and has been reproduced with the permission of AFCA

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