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Problems paying your mortgage

How to get help to avoid mortgage default

Page reading time: 4 minutes

If you're struggling with your home loan repayments, there is help available. The earlier you get help, the more options you'll have.

If you receive a default notice, do not ignore it. Talk to your lender or get free legal advice immediately.

Contact your lender about financial hardship

All lenders have hardship teams ready to help customers in tough times.

You may be able change the terms of your loan, or temporarily pause or reduce your repayments. This is called a hardship variation.

Some banks are offering six-month repayment deferrals on mortgages for customers who have lost income because of the coronavirus. If you defer repayments you will still owe all the payments you miss, including interest. 

If you can afford it, keep making payments, even if they're smaller. This will help keep the cost of your mortgage down. 

Apply for a hardship variation

  1. Contact your lender's 'hardship officer'.
  2. Give the details of your loan (account name and number, and the amount you pay each fortnight or month).
  3. Say that you want to change your loan repayments because you are experiencing hardship.
  4. Explain why you are having difficulties making payments. Tell them how long you think your financial problems will continue and how much you can afford to repay.

The Financial Rights Legal Centre sample letter generator can help you create a letter to send to your lender.

Your lender must write to you within 21 days to let you know the outcome of your hardship request. If they ask you for more information, they must respond within 21 days from when you provide it.

If your lender agrees to a hardship variation

If your lender refuses a hardship variation

Your lender must give a reason if they refuse your hardship request. If you're not happy with their response, contact their internal dispute resolution team.

If you can't reach an agreement, contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to make a complaint and get free, independent dispute resolution.

If you've fallen behind on your mortgage because of accident or sickness, you may have income protection insurance that can cover your repayments. You may have this insurance with your super.

Consider selling your home

If your circumstances are unlikely to improve, you may be better off selling your home.

This is a tough decision to make. But it's better to sell your home yourself than have a lender take possession and sell it. You're likely to get a better price and you'll avoid paying any legal costs passed on by the lender.

Selling your home is a big step to take, so talk to a financial counsellor or get legal advice first.

Another option is to live somewhere else and rent out your home until you can afford the repayments again.

If you decide to sell

Let your lender know if you decide to sell. They may ask for proof. This could include a copy of the contract with the real estate agent, the contract of sale and any advertisements.

Steps a lender can take if you're behind on your mortgage

Lenders have to follow a specific set of steps before they can take your home.

1. Default notice

Your lender can send you a default notice the day your repayment becomes overdue. However, they may wait until your repayment is 90 days or more overdue. The default notice will give you 30 days to make the payments you've missed plus the regular repayment on your loan. You can still apply for a hardship variation at this stage.

2. After the 30 day default period

Your lender can serve you with a Statement of Claim or a summons. This is the of start legal action against you to claim the whole amount of your home loan.

You have a set number of days to file a defence or lodge a dispute with a dispute resolution scheme. The number of days is different in each state or territory.

If you do nothing, your lender can take action to repossess your home.

Get legal advice if you receive a Statement of Claim.

3. Eviction

If your lender gets a court order to repossess your home they will send you a Notice to Vacate or a Sheriff's letter. Your lender may also get a Warrant for Possession. A sheriff (or bailiff) will come to your home, evict you from the premises and change the locks.

This does not release you from the obligation to pay your loan. Your lender may sell your home and recover any outstanding balance by taking further legal action. This can include making a claim to sell your other assets.

Look after yourself and get help

If you're feeling overwhelmed by money issues, it's okay to ask for help.

See urgent help with money for help with food, housing and bills, and emotional support.

Speak to a Financial Information Service Officer for free, confidential financial information.