The National Bulk Debt Project is based on the protection of Centrelink income for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our community. Under the law, a creditor cannot enforce a debt against a person whose only income is from Centrelink and whose only assets are basic household items.
In 2010, West Heidelberg Community Legal Centre successfully conducted the first ‘bulk debt negotiation’ on behalf of 425 disadvantaged and vulnerable clients, who were referred by legal aid offices, legal centres and financial counselling agencies across Australia.
By bundling clients’ debt, West Heidelberg Community Legal Centre negotiated to have $3.75 million in debts written off by creditors, such as the major banks, a major insurer and a major credit provider.
Building on this success, we now have additional resources to continue – and expand – the project. West Heidelberg Community Legal Centre is now working with Victoria Legal Aid and Legal Aid NSW.
Bulk negotiation for debt waiver – first round
Between 30 June 2011 and 30 July 2011, the project will collect eligible debts from financial counsellors and lawyers that are owed to the following:
•debt collectors – ACMS, Baycorp and Credit Corp
•credit providers – GE Finance
•household bills – Telstra and AGL
The project will then negotiate with those creditors for bulk waivers of the debts.You can then let the creditor know the debt has been referred to the project using this template letter.
We will have additional collections aimed at more debt collectors, finance providers and other creditors later in the year.
Is my client eligible?
Financial counsellors and lawyers can refer debts to the project if their client:
•is on a Centrelink income or has no income
•has no assets
•does not have so many debts that bankruptcy is a better option.
If the debt is for a telephone, electricity or gas bill, the client must:
•owe at least $800
•own no assets, or own a home but no other assets
•be on the service provider's financial hardship program (optional)
•have exhausted the government energy relief grants (for electricity or gas bills)
•be contributing to current energy use (for electricity or gas bills).
Protection from unfair enforcement practices for other debts
For all other debts that are not in the first round debts we suggest financial counsellors and lawyers seek waiver of the debt directly from the creditor.
If waiver is refused, you can lodge the long-term financial hardship dispute with the relevant External Dispute Resolution Scheme. This should protect clients from harassment and enforcement until resolved. See Debts with other creditors.
Frequently asked questions
How do I refer a debt to the project?
Financial counsellors and lawyers can refer debts to the project by registering their details and then login to submit their client's debts.
You will need to provide information about your client, their Centrelink payment and their debt. You will also need to provide a copy (by scanning and attaching) of a signed authority and your client's Centrelink income statement.
If you are not a financial counsellor or a lawyer, you should contact a financial counsellor in your area to refer the debt for you. See Financial Counselling Australia's website.
What debts can I refer?
The first round of collection (from 30 June 2011 to 30 July 2011) is for debts owed to the following:
•Debt Collectors – ACMS, Baycorp and Credit Corp
•Credit Providers – GE Finance
•Utilities – Telstra and AGL (minimum of $800).
If your client has debts owed to other creditors, you can apply to the relevant Ombudsman scheme for a determination. See Debts with other creditors.
Do I need to include medical reports about my client?
No. The only documents we need about each client is a copy of their Centrelink income statement and a copy of their signed authority.
You should include relevant information about your client on the ‘Application form’ page in the section ‘About your client’.
We do not need you to provide doctors reports, medical certificates, financial statements or any other evidence of long-term financial hardship.