Responding to Consumers’ Financial Hardship: An Evaluation of the Legal Frameworks and Company Policies
Competition and Consumer Law Journal, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 29-55, 2015
27 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 8, 2015
Financial hardship has been recognised as a growing problem that affects a broad cross-section of Australian consumers. The federal and state governments have sought to respond to this problem by establishing legal frameworks that provide consumer credit, essential services and telecommunications customers with a measure of flexibility, information and access to support that may assist them in meeting their financial obligations. We undertake a detailed analysis of these frameworks, documenting an increasingly national approach to the problem of financial hardship, as well as an emphasis upon transparency in the provision of hardship assistance to consumers. We combine our analysis with a comparative study of company hardship policies in the energy and water sectors, highlighting important gaps in the legal frameworks where the provision of some particularly effective forms of assistance is left to the discretion of individual companies. We also argue for a more coordinated approach to making hardship assistance more accessible for vulnerable consumers.
Keywords: financial hardship, consumer protection, consumer credit, essential services
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