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Banking regulator to investigate cost of living crisis, but not until 2024


What's behind the delay?

A key banking regulator will launch an inquiry into the growing cost of living crisis, but that isn't going to kick off until next year.

The Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC) announced plans for a "financial difficulties inquiry" in its 2022-2023 annual report, which was released this week.

"We plan to conduct an inquiry into financial difficulty which is on the rise and becoming an increasing concern," the report said.

"It is imperative banks are prepared to support an increasing number of customers who may face financial difficulty with effective and sustainable solutions."

Other issues to be canvassed include how quickly banks identify customers at risk and the obligations of banks to offer low fee accounts.

The inquiry will commence in the "third quarter of 2023-2024", the BCCC said, which would mean January at the earliest.

Cost of living issues are hitting hard right now, with 39% of Australians stressed by grocery bills, according to Finder's Cost Of Living report. So why is the BCCC waiting until mid-2024 to launch its investigation?

"We recognise the importance of our inquiry work and ensure that each inquiry is carefully planned and comprehensive," a BCCC spokesperson told Finder. "This inquiry is scheduled within the context of the extensive program of projects set out in our annual workplan."

The annual report notes that the timing of the inquiry will also "coincide with the end of the fixed-rate loan period for many customers who obtained home loans during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic".

The BCCC monitors adherence to the national Banking Code of Practice.

Banks have been under increasing scrutiny, with several investigations and fines this year following Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) investigations.

In the past month, ANZ was penalised $15 million for misleading customers about available funds, while NAB was penalised $2.1 million for "unconscionable conduct over account fees".

ASIC has also launched civil proceedings against Westpac for allegedly "failing to respond to customers' hardship notices within the time required by law", a topic likely to be of interest to the BCCC inquiry.

Need urgent help with debt or other financial issues? You can contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 from 9:30am to 4:30pm on weekdays.

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