Banks and other lenders are routinely discriminating against women who apply for loans and credit cards while on paid parental leave.
- Banks are denying women loans and credit cards while they’re on paid parental leave
- The women affected say it shows the banking system is archaic and out of touch
- Banks say they have to account for a person’s ability to repay what they’re lent
Multiple women have told the ABC their loan applications have been cancelled, or onerous requirements imposed on them, simply because they are on birth, parental or maternity leave.
When they’ve challenged the banks, the institutions have been unable to produce a written policy to justify their decisions.
Sarah – who doesn’t want to be identified – said she faced discrimination when she and her partner applied for a home loan for the “perfect fixer-upper” she had found in Canberra.
On paid parental leave from her job with the ACT government, the 36-year-old had a meeting with a home loan manager days out from the auction. Having secured two home loans before, she wasn’t expecting any issues.
“He looked at my pay slip … which said ‘birth leave’ next to the salary amount and he said there was a problem,” she said.
“He explained that loan approvers wouldn’t approve the loan because of my pay slip.
“When I asked why, he said many women choose not to return to full-time work after maternity leave.
“I said ‘that wouldn’t be the case for me … because I don’t have a baby’.
“I’d lost the baby, so I would definitely be returning to work full time.”
Sarah lost her second baby and was seeing out her full 18 weeks of paid leave, before returning to work.
Despite this, Sarah said the home loan manager told her she would still need a letter from her employer stating that she would in fact be returning to full time work.
“I was shocked,” she said.
“I told him I thought the policy was discriminatory and that I wanted to see the policy.
“If it’s unwritten, then they must be getting this information from somewhere about how to approve loans for people on parental leave, because it’s not clear.
“It took what was a really exciting time and just reminded us of everything we’d lost.”
No car loan for Brisbane family
Banks are obliged, by law, to assess whether any customer can service the loan they’re applying for, and that means taking into account any likely reduction in their pay.
Some lenders won’t accept a woman’s parental leave pay as income when assessing their loan application.
Others, including Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and NAB will recognise leave payments but require a letter from the woman’s employer verifying their return-to-work date and the nature of their employment.
Matilda – who also doesn’t want to be identified — was on paid parental leave from her public service job when she applied for a $30,000 car loan with her husband.
The loan was pre-approved online but a few days later, the Brisbane mother-of-two received a phone call from the lender asking her to explain the “MAT leave” on her pay slips. Matilda said she was told she would need a letter from her employer guaranteeing that she would be returning to work full time, for the application to proceed.
It was not a simple request for Matilda, as she wasn’t planning on returning to work for another nine months and her employer didn’t have a HR department she could call.
“We cancelled the loan application and ended up buying a car outright,” she said.
“I was really annoyed. I’d done the right thing — I’ve worked full time my entire life, I have every right to take maternity leave from my employer.”
Matilda also took aim at the “wrong and outdated” assumption that women don’t return to work after having babies.
“I earn just as good, if not better, money than my husband, we both contribute to the household and after my firstborn, I went back to work full time,” she said.
Credit card declined, citing maternity leave
ABC journalist Caitlyn Gribbin recently applied for a credit card, with a $10 000 limit, largely to accumulate the frequent flyer points on offer so she could visit friends and family interstate.
With a squeaky-clean credit record – and no debts other than a home loan — the Brisbane mother-of-two was “baffled” when she received a phone call from the bank explaining her application had been “automatically cancelled” because she was on paid parental leave.
“I was shocked to hear this, especially when I reminded the lender that it was paid maternity leave that I was receiving from the ABC,” she said
“The person on the other end of the phone was empathetic but said to me, basically, that there was no other option, that because I was on maternity leave, I’d be automatically excluded from being able to continue on with the application.”
Gribbin called the bank to appeal its decision and a week later, the credit card appeared in her letterbox. But, despite requesting one, she has never received a written explanation from the bank outlining why her application was initially rejected.
“I was told (on the phone) that perhaps my initial application should’ve been referred on for manual checking but instead, of course, it was automatically cancelled from what I assume is some sort of red-flag system,” she said.
“It really did shock me, as a woman on maternity leave that, no, the normal rules don’t apply to you.”
Advocates have told the ABC the apparent discrimination could limit a woman’s financial independence and fear those in unsafe situations could be denied a line of credit while they’re on paid parental leave.
The Australian Banking Association – which represents 20 banks across the country — cites responsible lending laws, which require banks to assess a customer’s income and expenses and overall ability to repay a loan.
“Banks also take their legal obligations under the Anti-Discrimination Act very seriously,” an ABA spokesperson said.
Consumer Action Law Centre chief executive Gerard Brody said while banks were required to assess whether a customer can make repayments without “substantial hardship”, each application should be considered on its merits.
“They’ll be looking at your income, your expenditure and your resources to make that assessment to ensure you can make those repayments without financial difficulty,” he said.
“But to see a blanket ‘no’ just because someone is on parental leave is a worry. I’d expect most banks to undertake further enquiries with that customer.”
That was Gribbin’s expectation before being told her credit card application was being automatically rejected.
“I immediately started searching online to see if this was a thing, a blanket policy I should’ve known about,” she said.
“I felt a bit embarrassed, to be honest. I didn’t know that maybe you can’t apply for a line of credit when you’re on maternity leave? And I quickly realised that there is not any publicly available information around this.”
For Sarah, missing out on the “most perfect house” for her family in Canberra made her reflect her mother’s experience, decades earlier, when she was refused a home loan because she was divorced and unmarried.
“We always used to drive past this house when I was a little kid and mum would point out this house and she’d say ‘I nearly bought this house’,” she said.
“Thirty, forty years later, she’s still talking about that house.
“I wonder if that will happen with this house?”