A CHARLESTOWN woman whose mortgage nightmare was raised in federal parliament last month has been served with papers giving her 28 days to show why her lender should not repossess the family home at the centre of her troubles.
The woman, Michelle Matheson, has been fighting RHG Mortgages – formerly RAMS home loans – since October 2007 when she began falling behind on a “low doc” loan of the sort that has come in for huge amounts of criticism at the Financial Services Royal Commission.
The Newcastle Herald wrote about Ms Matheson’s troubles in 2014 and again when the royal commission was announced last year. Yesterday she said her case was before the Credit and Investment Ombudsman, meaning the lender was not supposed to take any sort of action against her until its investigation was finished.
“I have tried to settle this for 11 years, they know that, and to try to evict us while the Royal Commission is on shows their brazen disregard for the law,” Ms Matheson said. “And I don’t believe it’s a matter of coincidence.”
With other members of a victim’s lobby group called Bank Reform Now, Ms Matheson spoke at an August 14 rally in Canberra that called for an extension to the royal commission.
The following week, on August 23, Shortland MP Pat Conroy raised Ms Matheson’s case in parliament, describing “the devastating impact that bad financial advice and corporate malfeasance has had on her and her family”.
“I want to thank her for her steely courage and determination in pursuing the outrageous practices of the lender she was fell victim to,” Mr Conroy said.
“Michelle is a single mother and works three jobs. The impact of the advice and the behaviour she was subjected to has shattered her world and that of her family, particularly her elderly mother.
“The banking royal commission would not have happened if it were not for Australians like Michelle pressuring the government to hold a full inquiry.”
The details of Ms Matheson’s case are complex but an earlier investigation by the Financial Ombudsman Service had found “maladministration” on behalf of the lender.
The ombudsmans are industry-funded and when RHG shifted to membership to the Credit and Investment Ombudsman, her case went to it. Ms Matheson says she heard nothing for two years until a letter arrived this month saying her case was closed. As was her right, she lodged another application that day with the ombudsman, claiming financial hardship due to mortgage fraud. She said her lodging of the dispute was registered by the ombudsman with a reference number, which should have stopped RHG from acting as it did.
“Then on Thursday I was served a statement of claim, giving me 28 days to respond with 11 years of evidence over this or they will come and evict me and my daughters,” Ms Matheson said. “Moments after the papers were served on me I contacted the ombudsman. It said it had no record of the September 6 claim being lodged despite their system sending me a “confirmation of lodgement and a reference number”.
Ms Matheson said she had repaid half of the $244,00 she had borrowed in 2007, and the bank was not out of pocket because it had claimed on insurance. But with penalty interest and other charges it was now claiming she owed more than $500,000.
Mr Conroy said Ms Matheson had been an early campaigner for a banking royal commission and this latest episode showed that nothing was changing for at least some organisations.
“What is happening to Michelle is vindictive and deplorable,” Mr Conroy said. “To attempt to repossess Michelle's property within a month of her experience being raised in parliament is an evil act. Victims of banking malpractice, such as Michelle, need justice not further attacks on them.”
Mr Conroy called on RHG to stop the proceedings while Ms Matheson’s case was before the ombudsman.
Ms Matheson said she was the fourth speaker at the Canberra rally “that they have done this to”.
“With the royal commission interim report due at the end of the month they want these matters in court to get rid of their historical cases,” she said.
RHG did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
This article has been amended from its original text.