AFSA NEWS - Temporary debt relief measures ended on 1 January 2021
Australian Energy Regulator Translated resources for energy consumers
FCA Weekly Digest 15 January 2021
Extracts from the FCA Weekly Digest
Welcome to the first edition of our Weekly Digest for 2021. We hope you had a fantastic holiday period and you're feeling refreshed as we settle into this new year.
This edition of the Digest is longer than usual, as we have some content that was published during the break to catch up on. There's some very important information in here, so please keep reading the whole way down!
Exempt Household Property in Bankruptcy
The AG's Department is consulting on changes to the bankruptcy regulations. The draft regulation runs to 177 pages, but probably the key bit for financial counsellors is Division 3 "Property available for payment of debts".
We're keen to get some feedback from the sector about this.
1. Section 27(2) - proposed additions to "basic household property" are a DVD or similar, one personal computer, one set of equipment providing internet access to the household. Is there anything else we should argue for?
2. Section 29 - Tools that are not available for payment of debts - currently $3,800 and will continue to be indexed. Is this enough?
3. Section 30 - Motor vehicles that are not available for payment of debts - currently $8,100 and will continue to be indexed. Is this enough?
Streamlined Debt Restructuring and Insolvency for Small Business
From 1 January 2021 there are new insolvency reforms for all companies with liabilities less than $1 million.
The "small business debt restructuring" process allows a small business to keep trading under the control of the directors, while a debt restructure plan is developed with the support of a small business restructuring practitioner. The restructuring plan has to be developed within 20 business days.
The creditors then have up to 15 days to consider the restructure plan and vote on it.
If creditors vote in favour of the plan, the small business restructuring practitioner overseas implementation of the plan.
If creditors do not vote in favour of the plan, the directors of the small business may choose to enter another insolvency process. These processes now include a new simplified liquidation process at the liquidator's discretion for voluntary liquidations. The new process is aimed at streamlining the liquidation process for small businesses.
There are eligibility criteria for small businesses to utilise both the debt restructuring plan process and the simplified liquidation process.
If you think these processes may be relevant to your client and would like to know more, please contact the Small Business Financial Counselling Support Line on 1800 413 828.
Earned Wage Access Products
Here's a heads up about a new form of debt that financial counsellors will soon see popping up in casework.
The name they use for the product in the USA is "earned wage access", but we've also seen it described as "Pay on Demand" or "Wages on Demand."
The product allows people to get access to money that they've earned in their job, but haven't yet received in their pay packet. For example, if a person is paid fortnightly, getting access to half of their expected wage after a week.
Comm Bank has just introduced a version of this called AdvancePay click here for more details. Other companies in the market include Earnd, MyPayNow and Beforepay.
The costs are met either by the person paying a fee (this is how most of the services seem to work) or the employer paying a fee (the Earnd model).
These products fall outside the credit laws as there are only fees, not interest.
Centrelink and TPD Insurance
What advice do you give to clients who may be receiving a Total and Permanent Disability Payment (TPD)? TPD payments can affect Centrelink entitlements.
We've put together a short guidance note that explains the implications. It can be viewed on the toolkit portal.
Important Changes for Debt Agreements
From the 1st January 2021, there are new laws applying to debt agreements.
The big positive change is that all debt agreement administrators now have to be members of AFCA. This provides an avenue to lodge complaints about any concerning conduct.
AFCA can consider complaints about misleading and deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct, inappropriate advice, non-disclosure, credit reporting and financial difficulty. There is more information on the AFCA website.
The other changes relate to advertising standards and disclosure requirements. Debt agreement administrators have to give potential clients information about the impact of a debt agreement, five days before they sign the proposal. This includes information about financial counselling, as well as the costs of a debt agreement.
Updated ACCC/ASIC Det Collection Guideline
The ACCC/ASIC Debt Collection Guideline has been updated. The latest version, December 2020, is available on the toolkit website.
Overall, the changes are relatively minor and involve updates to wording. There are however some good additions.
There is additional wording about how debt collectors can contact a consumer, saying that consumers can request a debt collector to contact them in a way they prefer.
There is also a reference to the right for consumers to have an authorised representative advocate on their behalf. And the guideline now refers to family violence in a number of places.
MoneySmart has also updated its guide 'Dealing with Debt Collectors: Your Rights and Responsibilities'. This is also available on the toolkit website and via the hyperlink above.
For more detail, there is also a 'Summary of Changes' to the debt collection guideline that lists the differences between the 2017 and the 2020 versions.
COVID-19 Early Release of Super Program Closed 31 December 2020
From 20 April 2020, some people were allowed to access their super early.
Up to $10,000 could be accessed before 30 June 2020.
The program closed on 31 December 2020. Payments for applications submitted by the closure date will be made throughout January 2021.
For more information about early release of super, including reasons not to access it early and tips about managing clients' expectations, visit the COVID-19 Financial Counselling toolkit.
Zip Contact Arrangements
Zip have provided new contact procedures for financial counsellors, when corresponding about financial hardship assistance.
Financial counsellors who represent Zip customers need to submit their request for financial hardship assistance in writing, via email to email@example.com
Zip will acknowledge receipt within 24-48 hours via email.
If your client requires urgent attention or the matter needs to be escalated, please contact Zip on 02 8924 2345.
This information has also been updated on the toolkit portal.
EAP Newsletter: Alcohol and Drug Awareness
As part of our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) package for the sector, we receive emails with wellbeing tips that include helpful resources.
The theme of this newsletter is alcohol and drug awareness in the workplace. The resources focus on making sure you're aware and have strategies in place to recognise when alcohol and drugs are impacting people and their work.
The Salvation Army is now offering a specialised program for people who are currently effected by domestic violence throughout Australia nationally.
The program offers the ability to borrow up to $5,000 for essential products and services that will place the individual and their children in safe and suitable environment. The loans are interest and fee free and can be repaid up to 3 years to ensure it is affordable for individuals to repay.
The program is designed to strengthen the living skills for individuals by focusing on financial education and positive lifestyle program. This requires willingness to remain engaged for the life of the loan.
Conversations from The Salvation Army's, You're The Boss Program, will assist individuals with budgeting strategies and also to achieve or work towards financial independence. Within this program different aspects of an ndividual's financial situation will be explored through creating new money habits, finding plans that are right for the individual, paying bills, discussing debts and insurance, shopping smart and other money saving tips.
The Positive Lifestyle Program takes participants through a self-awareness-raising process, focusing on personal difficulties they may be unable to identify by looking at addressing discontentment, fear, anger and fatigue, and communication break downs.
Positive Lifestyle Program, in a non-invasive, non-judgmental way, encourages participants to consider the following aspects of their lives: self-awareness, anger, depression, stress, loneliness, grief and loss, problem solving, assertiveness, selfesteem, and goal setting. It helps people know, value, care for and improve themselves.
For individuals who would like to express interest in this program please contact the Program Officer of Salvos Loans at firstname.lastname@example.org or call mobile number: 0419 641 285
In response to the government's devastating decision to cut the Coronavirus supplement even further, Raise the Rate for Good - https://raisetherate.org.au/ is launching a new campaign in January- a community mobilising campaign in Government electorates that have a large number of, or a large increase in, people receiving JobSeeker.
The Raise The Rate campaigners are particularly interested in community organisations in Boothby, SA who may be able to support local people on JobSeeker to speak with their parliamentary representatives.Other organisations interested in supporting locals on income support payments to share their experiences are also welcome to get in touch. To express your interest, send an email to email@example.com or call 0444 590 297.
SACOSS Relief for people without incomes
There are a number of options available to support people who have lost income due to complications caused by the SA COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown. Measure include:
The SA COVID-19 Cluster Isolation Payment, a single $300 payment to provide financial support to workers in South Australia who are required to self-isolate because of a public health direction from SA Health and mandatory COVID-19 testing and do not have access to paid leave or other income support. To check your eligibility and apply, visit the SA Gov COVID-19 (link is external) website - https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/school-and-community/financial-support-for-individuals
The COVID-18 Relief Call Centre is also available for information and assistance on 1300 705 336. Services include access to personal hardship support and advice on short-term accommodation options if you cannot safely self-quarantine or self-isolate.
AFSA NEWS - Temporary debt relief measures ended on 1 January 2021
In March 2020, the Australian Government announced a series of changes to bankruptcy law, as part of the wider economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary changes included:
an increase in the debt threshold, which enabled creditors to apply for a bankruptcy notice
an increase to the timeframe for a debtor to respond to a bankruptcy notice
an increase to the temporary debt protection period available to debtors.
As of 1 January 2021, those temporary changes have ceased. An amendment has also been made to adjust the bankruptcy threshold. This means:
the minimum amount of debt that can trigger bankruptcy is $10,000, down from $20,000
the amount of time an individual has to respond to a bankruptcy notice is 21 days, reduced from six months
temporary debt protection allows for 21 days relief from creditors, instead of six months.
Before the temporary changes were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the minimum amount of debt that could trigger a bankruptcy was $5,000.
The government has amended the bankruptcy regulations to adjust the threshold for petitioning bankruptcy to $10,000 or more.
Australian Energy Regulator Translated resources for energy consumers
You may remember that in August 2020 we wrote to you about help for energy customers financially impacted by COVID-19.
We are writing to let you know that we have additional translated resources which we would appreciate your help in circulating to communities and sharing on social media.
We know that the post-Christmas period can be a difficult one for many people incurring additional financial commitments. This year, this has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in financial stress for many consumers.
We want to encourage residential and small business energy customers to contact their energy provider for help if they are having trouble paying their bills. We know that getting information out through trusted networks is the best way to reach culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and we would greatly appreciate your support in helping get this message out.
The following resources have been translated into Arabic, Simplified Chinese (Mandarin), Traditional Chinese, Burmese, Nepali and Vietnamese:
Translated newsletter/website content:
A short 120 word paragraph that encourages people to call their retailer if they are struggling to pay their bill, and to encourage their family and friends to do the same. This can be used in newsletters or on websites.
"If you can't pay your electricity or gas bill, contact the company that sends you your bill and ask them for help. Your energy company has translation services available for you. You can find the contact details on your bill. Encourage your family and friends who need help to call their energy company too. If you make contact with your energy company, you won't be disconnected."
Social media tiles
We have developed translated social media tiles sized for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We encourage you to share these tiles on relevant social media channels and with your stakeholders so that they can share on their channels.
Can't pay your bill? Contact your energy company for help.
If there are any other ways we can support the circulation and promotion of this information, or if you have any questions about this campaign, please don't hesitate to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you in advance for any support you're able to give to raising awareness of these important consumer protection messages.
Director (Acting) | Consumers and Markets Branch
Australian Energy Regulator