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Consumer credit, debt, personal insolvency and the laws that protect us

As household debt increases and disposable income falls, more and more Australians are experiencing financial stress.

Senior Lecturer Nicola Howell’s PhD research explores how consumer credit, debt and personal insolvency laws work in practice and whether they provide sufficient protection, particularly for those that are vulnerable or disadvantaged.

“Money issues affect people from all walks of life. I’m hoping my research will help improve our laws in Australia, so that people can recover more quickly from financial difficulties. For example, if someone has declared bankruptcy, did it provide them with a fresh start? Did it improve their financial wellbeing? We want to work out what is working, what is not, and whether changes are needed,” Nicola said.

Nicola’s research article, Shutting the courts out: developing consumer credit law when privatised dispute resolution dominates the landscape, won the Banking and Financial Services Law Association (BSFLA) Research Prize in 2018, and has been published in the Journal of Banking & Finance Law and Practice.

As part of her PhD research, Nicola spent six months in The Netherlands meeting with Dutch debt counsellors, government officials, academics, and others working on the same types of consumer debt issues we have in Australia. The Netherlands visit was supported by the QUT Faculty of Law, the Australia Awards Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship, and the Melbourne Law School.

Nicola has previously invited debtors to complete an online survey about their experiences of bankruptcy, a debt agreement, or financial difficulty assistance, and is currently analysing the results.

In a further phase of her study, Nicola is now inviting practitioners to share their insights about the main options for debtors.

The practitioner survey is anonymous and is relevant for, among others, bankruptcy trustees, debt agreement administrators, financial counsellors, and other people who help over-indebted consumers identity their options. It is also relevant for those who work in research or policy development on personal insolvency or consumer debt issues.

The practitioner survey is open now.

Nicola’s findings will be released upon completion of her PhD through Melbourne Law School.

Need help with debt?

If you or someone you know is struggling with debt, assistance is available via the National Debt Helpline.

ASIC’s MoneySmart website also offers valuable guidance for managing debt.

About Nicola Howell

Nicola researches legal and policy issues in consumer financial services, consumer credit and other consumer transactions, and personal insolvency. Nicola teaches in areas including insolvency, commercial and personal property, consumer, and financial services law.

You can learn more about Nicola and her research and publications in her staff profile.


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