Personal bankruptcies rose by 4 per cent last financial year, fuelled by rising debt levels. (Flickr: Rafael J M Souza)
More than 32,000 Australians declared bankruptcy during the 2018 financial year, with households in both of the country’s resource-dependant states, Western Australia and Queensland, still doing it tough.
The WA suburb of Baldivis, about 46 kilometres south of Perth’s CBD, recorded the highest number of personal bankruptcies nationwide with 105.
A report from data registry and analytics business, illion, shows there was a 4 per cent increase in personal bankruptcies across the nation over the last 12 months — with a total of 32,350 Australians declaring themselves bankrupt.
Queensland accounted for five of the suburbs in the top 10 list, which actually included 13 suburbs due to four tying for one spot.
According to one analyst, many of the top 10 suburbs included a high number of young families.
Overall, Queensland recorded the highest number of any state or territory with 9,415 bankruptcies — up 1.5 per cent on the year before.
But WA, with 4,130 personal bankruptcies, experienced an 11.7 per cent increase — the sharpest year-on-year rise.
Victoria recorded the only decrease with its total declining by 2.2 per cent, while South Australia’s increase was minimal at 0.9 per cent.
The chief executive of illion, Simon Bligh, said rising debt levels, stagnant wage growth and falling house prices across the eastern seaboard were a bad combination for consumers.
“The lights are flashing red across several regions in terms of rising consumer stress levels,” he said.
“Sydney’s declining property market and the significant rise in personal bankruptcies could be mirrored in Melbourne in [financial year] 2019, as its property market is showing signs of following the same downwards trajectory.
Experts are pointing to a weaker eastern seaboard housing market as a concern. (774 ABC Melbourne: Simon Leo Brown)
“At the same time, economies in Western Australia and Queensland have turned a corner recently, with property markets stabilising and resurgent resources prices.
“Yet according to our analysis, a significant number of households are still doing it tough in these states.”
Vulnerable young families in hard-hit suburbs
In WA, the trend among the top five suburbs for total bankruptcies in 2017-18 was clear.
Elson Goh, a financial planner and instructor at Curtin University’s School of Economics and Finance in WA, said the demographic makeup of most of the suburbs in the national top 10 included many young families.
He said in Baldivis in particular — where at the last census, children aged between 0 and 14 made up 27.2 per cent of the population — that left them more vulnerable.
“Some of these families are struggling to obviously meet some of their commitments, and they are the vulnerable ones because they’ve got a heavy burden to shoulder,” he said.
However, Mr Goh said while the report was concerning, it was not all doom and gloom.
“Clearly people and families are experiencing quite a lot of stress in terms of having to meet their commitments, and when the strain gets too much people are walking away by filing bankruptcy,” he said.
“While it could possibly escalate further, it may be premature to suspect that because there has been some turnaround.
“Take our local [WA] economy, for example.
“We have seen that house prices have been somewhat stabilised in some suburbs, and whilst the job wages hasn’t increased tremendously, we do see some business confidence has risen.”
Fewer options creating more vulnerability
Mr Goh said filing for bankruptcy was often caused by a drastic or unexpected event.
People should know all their options before filing for bankruptcy, financial planners say. (Pixabay: Simon Hill)
“This can range from prolonged inability to find employment, death of a family member or perhaps a major fallout of a business partner,” he said.
“[Previously there were] some options that people could consider, but it’s no longer there because of the falling house prices and stagnant wage growth.”
While interest rates have remained low for some time, Mr Goh said mortgage stress was a particularly large factor in the increase in bankruptcies.
However, he said there were still avenues people could consider before opting for bankruptcy:
- Seek financial counselling, such as from Legal Aid or Centrelink;
- Approach your bank or debt provider and arrange a debt repayment plan; and
- Approach service providers and seek help to avoid being cut off.
Mr Goh said while filing for bankruptcy sometimes could not be helped, the impact could be severe and people should avoid it if at all possible.
“You are classified as a bankrupt for three years, and someone will be appointed to look after your affairs,” he said.
“The fact that you’ve been a bankrupt will appear on a public register, travel can be restricted and service providers may require you to pay a bond before they provide you with any services.
“Future employment can also be affected and it may be difficult to borrow money to buy a house or rent in the future.”