Law a university for the real world


09 September 2019

As household debt skyrockets, what laws are in place to protect and assist? Are they adequate? QUT Faculty of Law Senior Lecturer and award winning researcher, Nicola Howell investigates.

According to the Centre for Social Impact, 2.1 million Australians are experiencing financial stress. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported household disposable incomes falling, with the household-debt-to-income ratio at almost 200%.

Nicola Howell’s PhD research explores how consumer credit, debt and personal insolvency laws and policies work in practice and whether they provide sufficient protection, particularly for those who 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,” she said.

Ms. Howell’s paper, 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 last year and is to be published in the Journal of Banking & Finance Law and Practice.

"Sometimes academic research can be seen as disconnected from legal practice,” said Nicola Howell, “BSFLA members include practitioners as well as academics, so it has meant a great deal to me to have my research acknowledged by BFSLA.”

Supported by the QUT Faculty of Law, the Australia Awards Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship, and Melbourne Law School, Nicola spent six months in the Netherlands for her research that she hopes will benefit both countries. “Living abroad, and meeting with Dutch debt counsellors, government officials, academics, and others working on the same type of consumer debt issues we have in Australia was illuminating and a privilege,” she said.

The findings are to be released upon the completion of her PhD through Melbourne Law School. You can contribute to Nicola’s PhD research by completing an online survey, eligibility criteria applies.

If you have:
Experienced bankruptcy
Experienced a debt agreement
Received financial difficulty assistance or a hardship variation from a credit provider

If you or someone you know is struggling with debt, encourage them to seek help via the National Debt Helpline phone: 1800 007 007

Other resources:
National Debt Helpline