WEst justice expands services


Fatima Halloum

WEst Justice has expanded its specialist services to help more people across the state struggling with mortgage stress.

The community organisation will shift from working solely with people in the western suburbs of Melbourne to now servicing home owners living all over Victoria.

WEst Justice mortgage stress director of operations and strategy Stephanie Tonkin said she expects to see more households fall into financial difficulty.

“There are always people in mortgage stress but now with the costs of living on the rise and the interest rate rise, it’s really front and centre,” Ms Tonkin said.

“We’re talking about someone’s roof over their head, we’re talking about leaving a home and potentially facing homelessness.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines housing stress as lower-income households that spend more than 30 per cent of their gross income on housing costs.

“For many people that’s a reality, increasingly so, you may be comfortable paying that now…that may be manageable,” Ms Tonkin said.

“Mortgage stress becomes a problem when there’s a change in circumstance.”

Ms Tonkin said the change could be another baby on the way, a workplace incident, addiction issues or a reduction in work hours.

“It’s one of those change in circumstances that can happen to anyone, that can push someone from managing their mortgage repayment into real financial trouble,” she said.

“But it’s important to highlight that households do have options to deal with their mortgage stress.”

WEst Justice began its Mortgage Stress Victoria program seven years ago, when mortgage stress was an emerging issue.

Ms Tonkin said the team is made up of specialist lawyers, financial counselors and social workers, who help with many of the issues that cause and result from mortgage stress.

A key priority for the service is reaching people earlier in the cycle of their financial difficulty.

“No matter how early or late in the cycle, they can reach out to us. The sooner you seek help the more options that you might have to deal with the mortgage stress issues,” Ms Tonkin said.

“They can give us a call and we would give them that initial advice on their rights and options.”

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