At the Napier Citizens Advice Bureau we've had a number of enquiries over recent weeks from people experiencing financial hardship, often due to the current Covid pandemic. The following are examples of questions we might get asked and our responses.

I'm really desperate about my money situation. Unpaid bills are banking up and I'm getting letters from debt collectors. Can you people help?

We can put you in touch with one of the local government funded, not-for-profit agencies. They have trained financial mentors/budget advisers who will help you sort out your current financial situation and then work with you to get you "back in the black". Their services are free!

I've got money tied up in KiwiSaver. Can I access that to help with my present difficulties?

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If you're suffering considerable financial hardship, you may be able to withdraw some of your KiwiSaver funds early. But this should be an absolute last resort action, as the prime purpose of KiwiSaver is to assist you in retirement. For this reason, KiwiSaver funds managers are always most reluctant to release your money early and will need to be convinced by you that you are experiencing significant financial hardship. Having the support of a budget adviser should assist your application. You can only access yours and your employer's contributions, not the Government's tax credits.

I believe my problems arose because of Covid-19.

If you lose your job (including self-employment) between March 1 and October 30, 2020 due to Covid-19, you may be eligible for the Covid-19 Income Relief Payment from Work and Income. The payment is for up to 12 weeks to help with living costs after sudden job loss, and to give time to find other work.

It's getting on top of my mortgage and hire purchase repayments that's the main problem.

It is very important to contact the lender as soon as you realise you're having problems. The sooner you take action, the more likely the issue can be resolved. Many lenders are willing to negotiate a payment plan to tide you through a difficult time. Most mortgage and hire purchase agreements include hardship clauses whereby the lender should give relief, such as a repayment holiday, or extension of the term, etc. Was there mortgage repayment insurance included in the original loan?

I'm now getting letters from debt collectors talking about my credit rating.

We cannot over emphasise the importance of avoiding getting a bad credit rating, as it is
almost certain to make life difficult for you in the future. Having a budget adviser/financial mentor working with you, is likely to give confidence to lenders etc that your problems are under control.

■ For more information or support, contact us at the Napier Citizens Advice Bureau when
we are open 9am until 4pm on Monday, Thursday and Friday; 9am-12.30pm on
Thursday and Friday and 9.30am to 10.30 am on Saturdays. We are at 126 Hastings St,
(above the BNZ, Napier). No appointment necessary. Or ring us on 06 8359664 or email
any time to napier@cab.org.nz. We are here to help, and confidentiality is assured.

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