Suhela is an Afghan woman and a single parent with five dependent children under the age of 15 years. She was married at 14 years old to a man 13 years her senior. She arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2007 and is a victim of extreme family violence and financial abuse. At the time, she had no education and limited English language skills. A social worker referred Suhela to South East Community Links (SECL) for financial counselling.
Suhela’s ex-husband coerced her into signing a mortgage contract when she did not adequately understand the terms and conditions. When Suhela became concerned about her financial situation, she turned to her bank for help. On their advice, Suhela took out loan protection insurance on her mortgage despite being a single parent on Centrelink benefits. She was not offered an interpreter and believed that if anything happened to her, the insurance would protect her home and children.
In 2017, Suhela was hospitalised for four months after her ex-husband stabbed her 10 times in the spine and face. Her children were put into foster care. She made an insurance claim which was rejected as the insurer did not recognise her injuries as ‘trauma’. This intensified her financial hardship and as her ex-husband was incarcerated, there was no child support and she was unable to earn an income due to her injuries. She was at risk of losing her home.
SECL’s financial counsellor lodged a complaint with the bank and later with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to seek resolution on the insurance. Eventually, the insurance premiums were refunded and a goodwill gesture payment was made to Suhela.
The bank agreed to lower repayments on the mortgage and a substantial amount of debt was waived to make the mortgage repayments sustainable. The financial counsellor also assisted Suhela with her property rates, utilities and understanding her consumer rights and responsibilities.
In partnership with legal aid, the financial counsellor assisted Suhela with court hearings and supported her to finalise the property settlement. Suhela had a wonderful outcome where she was entitled to 100% of the equity in family home. There is also a lifetime intervention order against her ex-husband to protect her and the children.
Three years later, Suhela and her children are still living in their family home. Fortunately, she has recovered well from her injuries. She has completed English language classes and works part time while studying. Money is still tight, but thanks to the financial counsellor, Suhela has a plan and knows what to do to make ends meet. Her children are all doing well with her eldest at university, one son undertaking an apprenticeship and her other children in school.
SECL’s financial counselling program is supported by the Victorian Government.