By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A staggering $ 5.8 million in debt to predatory lenders was resolved by financial advisers at South East Community Links in 2020-2021.
At its annual general meeting on November 15, the service celebrated 50 years since its inception as the Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau (SCAAB).
He also poignantly mourned the recent passing of its inspirational founder Merle Mitchell AM.
He also signaled the return of the community’s financial difficulties after the end of Covid supports – such as JobKeeper, JobSeeker supplements, home loan deferrals and moratoriums on evictions and disconnections from public services.
As a result, customers were left with months of arrears on rents, home loans and utility bills – while many had lower incomes than before the pandemic, the SECL chief executive said. , Peter McNamara.
Many were at risk of homelessness, and many turned to SECL’s financial advisers “en masse” to navigate the complex legal and debt collection systems.
“It is important for people to know that the support is there,” McNamara said.
“SECL is able to help you in the most difficult financial situations.
The continued financial pressure in the communities of Greater Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia Shire during the post-Covid lockdown is SECL’s “most important concern”.
Most affected are asylum seekers and international students, who were not eligible for government support after their jobs were terminated during Covid.
There has been a monumental 152 percent increase in youth homelessness. About 16 percent of SECL clients were homeless or at risk.
SECL is the largest provider of financial advice to diverse communities in Australia, and the largest in emergency relief in Victoria.
Community and Financial Welfare Officer Kay Dilger said the role of advisers was to “tell their stories” to creditors and come up with solutions. Over the past year, it has cleared 13% of debts.
The impact of Covid and financial abuse by partners were the two main issues for customers, Ms. Dilger said.
Financial abuse was a common form of domestic violence, for example when all debts went to “her name” and income went to “her name”.
Lack of access to income was a key barrier preventing women from leaving abusive relationships, Ms. Dilger said.
SECL helped a refugee and domestic violence survivor who was coerced by her ex-husband into signing a mortgage contract.
Her bank then advised her to take out loan protection insurance despite being a single mother receiving Centrelink benefits. The bank did not offer him an interpreter.
She was hospitalized after being stabbed 10 times in the spine by her ex-husband. Her insurer did not recognize her injuries as “trauma” and denied her claim, putting her in danger of losing her home.
After SECL’s intervention, insurance premiums were refunded and a “goodwill” payment was made to the client. His mortgage payments have been reduced and some of his debts have been written off.
Another mother came to SECL looking for emergency food aid and rent assistance. Staff looked into the causes of her plight and found that she was constantly subjected to financial, physical and emotional abuse in the home.
She and her child have found safe housing and education, with the help of 20 agencies.