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Open Letter To Essential Service Providers To Support People In Financial Hardship Due To COVID-19

COVID-19 is causing immense disruption to our society and our economy. Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders and their families now face having to survive on a reduced income.

These people are worried about whether they can pay their rent or their mortgage, while keeping their homes warm and keeping food on the table.

15 social service organisations across Aotearoa, New Zealand are calling on companies providing essential services such as energy, telecommunications and internet, banking, finance, insurance and rental housing to take additional steps to support their community during the COVID-19 crisis.

Many of the businesses we are addressing already have existing hardship obligations under law or industry codes of conduct. They must now ensure that assistance is easily available.

We have three key requests for these service providers:

1. No disconnections or service cessation. Companies should continue to offer their services without interruption.

2. Waive penalty and late fees, including additional interest charges. No one should pay extra while they are struggling to pay bills on time.

3. Pause debt collection. People should not be pursued by debt collectors during this time.

We are also calling on central and local government to commit to a moratorium on debt collection activities and late payment fees. Many of the repayments that currently seriously threaten the wellbeing of people in hardship are for debts held by government.

We acknowledge that many providers are already taking some of these steps. Building on these efforts we need to see coordinated industry-wide commitments to do the right thing by people, their families and whānau.

We are calling on all essential service providers to publicly commit to implementing these minimum relief measures. Businesses and governments should not hesitate to go further.

We will work alongside any organisations who commit to implementing these three fundamental requests. It is the right thing to do.

Age Concern

Child Poverty Action Group

Christian Budgeting New Zealand

Christians Against Poverty

Citizens Advice Bureau NZ

Community Law Centres O Aotearoa

Consumer NZ

FinCap

Good Shepherd NZ

Methodist Alliance

New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services

Nga Tangata Microfinance

NZ Council of Trade Unions

Social Services Providers Aotearoa

The Salvation Army

Quotes

"This is not a time to sit in silence, as older people or as community groups! We are an organisation providing essential services to older people and in a time of a crisis, without our community involvement older people would go without medications and food supplies, social connections or supported mental wellbeing. We are there to help"

Stephanie Clare, Chief Executive, Age Concern New Zealand.

"Child Poverty Action Group has long been concerned that debt repayments have been harsh and pushed many families into despair and poverty. We are aware of people paying reparations on overpaid welfare benefits which has caused extreme distress. Suspension or debt forgiveness is urgent, as is giving people the full Working For Families for their children",

Dr Susan St John, Economics Spokesperson, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

"Now more than ever, it’s important that essential services and money lenders have compassion for New Zealanders facing hardship. As COVID-19 hits home, applications for high-interest loans are increasing amongst people with low credit scores. Some are seeking loans just to buy food. These loans can be harmful to vulnerable families in the best of times; during a crisis they can be devastating. It’s vital that service providers treat their customers with care and lenders ensure new loans are affordable and do not increase people’s suffering. We hope that looking back, we’ll see these businesses playing their roles to protect the vulnerable in our communities",

Aimee Mai, CEO, Christians Against Poverty (CAP).

"As the whole of New Zealand unites to fight COVID 19, it is vital that providers of services that people cannot do without, do their bit and be socially responsible. They need to ensure that those whose income has been hit hard by the COVID 19 crisis continue to receive their essential services without this increasing hardship through debt or penalties",

Kerry Dalton, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Bureau

"Christian Budgeting New Zealand wholeheartedly supports the requests outlined in this open letter to essential providers. Waking up each morning and worrying how to keep a roof over your head, keep warm and source food for you and your family, is worrying enough. But the dawn of Covid-19 has meant that thousands of people, already struggling to make ends meet, are hit harder financially. Many others are experiencing financial hardship for the first time, as a direct result of this pandemic due to job losses. With the future ahead very uncertain, the requests outlined in this letter would certainly provide some vital financial relief for families in need",

Sharon Soper, Chairperson, Christian Budgeting New Zealand (CBNZ).

"While many of the services essential to the necessities of life will be taking a commonsense approach to ensuring people are protected at this challenging time, it is vital that people can be assured they will not be placed in danger because of their inability to pay while we unite to fight Covid-19",

Sue Moroney, CEO, Community Law Centres o Aotearoa (CLCA).

"We're calling on companies providing essential services to step up and help customers who are experiencing hardship. This is a time when we all need to support each other and do the right thing for those who have been hardest hit",

Karen McDonald, Acting Chief Executive, Consumer NZ.

"Our whole nation is carrying a burden at the moment. We urge financial services and utilities to go the extra mile to respond to the reality and fear of financial hardship. Disconnection from essentials such as power haunts too many of our households, especially heading into winter. Lifting that threat in the interests of health and safety, in a spirit of kindness, is the right thing for companies to do",

Tim Barnett, Chief Executive, FinCap.

"This is the time for compassion and kindness. No customer of a service organisation wants to forgo their financial commitments but in this extraordinary period - which is not of anyone’s making - we all need to be lenient and consider that customers and businesses are under severe financial stress. Essential service providers, please put these minimum relief measures in place",

Jill Hawkey, Convenor, Methodist Alliance.

"Those with the least in our communities are those who will be impacted the worst by the pandemic and economic downturn. These recommendations will help soften the impact an keep vulnerable New Zealanders safer",

Trevor McGlinchey, Executive Office, New Zealand Council Christian of Social Services (NZCCSS).

"We know that people plunged into vulnerable times and under pressure to meet financial commitments for the basic necessities of life will often seek help from unsafe credit providers. We urge essential service providers to offer assistance at this time to avoid people being forced into unsafe debt traps",

Natalie Vincent, General Manager, Nga Tangata Microfinance.

"SSPA members are dealing everyday with families facing unprecedented challenges to manage through this crisis. We support these crisis relief measures and encourage further efforts to support struggling communities, such as rent holidays for tenants who have lost their income",

Brenda Pilott, Manager, Social Service Providers Aotearoa (SSPA).

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