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Banks offer nationwide COVID-19 relief

Lenders have offered additional relief measures to customers impacted by lockdowns across Australia.

Several states and territories have entered into lockdown across the country amid a nationwide coronavirus outbreak.

The NSW government was the first to announce on 26 June that everyone who has been in Greater Sydney for any reason since Monday, 21 June 2021 (including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour) would need to enter a 14-day lockdown period.

The stay-at-home rules require everyone who lives, works, is educated or has visited Greater Sydney to remain in place at home until 11.59pm on Friday, 9 July (with limited reasons allowed for leaving home).

Since the announcement of the NSW lockdown, several parts of Queensland have entered into a lockdown since 6pm on Tuesday, 29 June 2021, until 6pm Friday, 2 July 2021, with residents only allowed to leave their homes to obtain essential goods or services, including healthcare and COVID-19 vaccinations, exercise outdoors, attend essential work or childcare, and assist vulnerable persons.

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In addition, Perth and Peel in Western Australia have entered a minimum four-day lockdown from 29 June until 12.01am Saturday, 3 July 2021.

The Greater Darwin area in the Northern Territory has also been placed in lockdown until 1pm on Friday 2 June 2021, while Alice Springs has entered a 72-hour lockdown, effective 1pm on 30 June 2021.

In the wake of these restrictions, Australian Banking Association (ABA) CEO Anna Bligh said that several support measures have been made available by banks, and urged customers in hardship to contact their lender.

She said the types of assistance offered would depend on individual circumstances but could include adjustment to loan repayments, interest-free periods or no interest rate increases, waiving fees and charges, and debt consolidation to help make repayments more manageable.

“Banks know that these lockdowns can have devastating consequences, especially for small businesses,” Ms Bligh said.

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“The message from banks is clear: don’t tough it out on your own. Call your bank. They will do whatever they can to help.”

As such, lenders (including some major banks) have extended support measures to business and individual customers to the affected states and territories.

This has followed earlier support measures already announced by all the major banks and Suncorp earlier this week for Sydneysiders impacted by the two-week lockdown.

NAB

The National Australia Bank (NAB) has announced that its bankers would reach out to customers in areas under the new restrictions, including NSW, Queensland, Perth and the Peel region, and Darwin to understand how the latest changes are impacting them.

The major bank said that it is extending support measures to businesses, including:

  • Restructuring of business facilities along with reduced or waived application fees;
  • Deferral of principal payments across multiple product options;
  • Waiving costs and charges for withdrawing term deposits early to provide business customers quick access to cashflow;
  • Business recovery loan options (under the federal government’s SME Recovery Loan Scheme);
  • Credit card and personal loan relief; and
  • Professional wellbeing support.

Support available for individual customers could include:

  • Providing a temporary reduced payment arrangement;
  • Giving a temporary payment break;
  • Where appropriate, restructuring a home loan or consolidating debt to suit different circumstances; and
  • Wellbeing and financial counselling support.

Commenting on the measures, NAB group executive for business and private bank Andrew Irvine said: “NAB’s offer of support is available to personal and business customers wherever they are and for the duration of our fight against COVID-19.

“Our bankers will work with customers to understand their situation and what we can do to support them.”

Westpac

Westpac has outlined support measures available for business and individual customers impacted by the latest COVID-19 restrictions in Queensland and Western Australia.

This has followed its offer of support measures to assist Sydneysiders and customers in the Northern Territory who are impacted by the restrictions.

Support measures for business customers could include:

  • Case management support for small business customers experiencing financial difficulty;
  • Reduced or deferred repayments on asset and equipment finance and eligible business loans;
  • Business loan restructuring with no fees incurred;
  • Low interest rate business loans for eligible customers through the SME Recovery Loan Scheme; and
  • Referrals to financial counsellors or other support services.

Support measures for individual customers could include:

  • Home or personal loan repayment deferrals or reductions, interest rate reductions, and loan term extensions;
  • Credit card repayment and interest rate reductions for a period of time;
  • Fee waivers across a range of products;
  • Restructuring of debt; and
  • Referrals to financial counsellors or other support services.

Commenting on the support measures, Westpac chief executive consumer and business banking Chris de Bruin said: “This is an evolving situation that will have an immediate impact on many small businesses and households. We want our customers to know Westpac is on hand to help those affected by the latest COVID-19 restrictions.

“Small businesses and households around Australia are again facing into an uncertain period. We urge any business or consumer customer who is worried about the path ahead to contact us so we can work together on a plan to help support them through this time.

“We encourage any customer who needs help with their finances to contact us as soon as possible.”

Teachers Mutual Bank Limited

The mutual bank has also offered support measures for customers impacted by the latest COVID-19 restrictions in the states and territories.

These support measures will apply to all of the Teachers Mutual Bank Limited (TMBL) divisions, including Firefighters Mutual Bank, Health Professionals Bank, Teachers Mutual Bank, and UniBank.

Customers have been urged to contact the lender to discuss various available options, including:

  • To request a reduction in principal and interest loan repayments to the minimum monthly repayment amount and extend the term of the loan;
  • To make interest-only repayments for a limited period, including to request to restructure loan to interest-only repayments;
  • Consider switching to a fixed rate home loan;
  • Consider accessing available money in redraw in the loan; and
  • Consider accessing available money in the offset account.

Teachers Mutual Bank Limited, Chief Executive Officer, Steve James, said: “The COVID-19 situation in Australia is once again changing rapidly. We are thinking of our NSW customers who have recently entered stay-at-home restrictions and we are here to support any member who is facing financial difficulty as a result of the new COVID-19 restrictions.

“Our customers are the core of our business, and we will continue to monitor the situation and act quickly to support our members through difficult times.”

TMBL chief risk officer Glenn Becker said that TMBL assisted over 960 customers with a home loan repayment pause in the 2019-20 financial year, with the majority of these borrower recommencing repayments on their home loans with no foreclosures as at 31 March 2021.

“Additionally, in FY20-21 we have helped close to 400 members experiencing a range of challenges to navigate their changing financial circumstances.”

The NSW government recently launched a new grants package to support small businesses in NSW impacted by the current lockdown, including a package of grants of between $5,000 and $10,000 for small businesses, as well as other measures to help SMEs withstand the 14-day lockdown period and ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

[Related: Banks offer relief to Sydneysiders]

Banks offer nationwide COVID-19 relief
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Malavika Santhebennur

Malavika Santhebennur is the features editor on the mortgages titles at Momentum Media.

Before joining the team in 2019, Malavika held roles with Money Management and Benchmark Media. She has been writing about financial services for the past six years.

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