A Time for Expansion

This Anti Poverty Week, community organisations throughout Queensland are calling for an extension of the state government-funded NILS Expansion Project. The project funds the development, support and expansion of NILS programs across Queensland.

NILS, otherwise known as the No Interest Loan Scheme, offers an alternative to high-cost fringe lending and provides affordable credit to people unable to access mainstream finance.

“It’s a program that enables people on low incomes to access affordable credit for the purchase of essential goods and services,” says Karen Denham, Queensland NILS state co-ordinator.

Established in 2008, the successful three-way partnership between Good Shepherd Youth & Family Services, National Australia Bank (NAB) and the Queensland Government has seen the number of NILS programs in Queensland grow from nine to 25. The resulting $3 million increase in NAB capital has led to approximately 1500 loans being written across Queensland in the last 12 months as compared to 400 loans in 2008.

“While this growth has seen some fantastic outcomes, we are really just scratching the surface in meeting some of the basic financial needs of disadvantaged Queenslanders,” Ms Denham says.

A recent report into disadvantage across Queensland released by Lifeline Community Care in May 2010, confirmed that an increasing number of people are doing it tough as “food prices have risen on average 15 per cent in the past two years, rent by 17 per cent and electricity by 32per cent”. Often when the fridge breaks down, it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Aaron Davis, CEO of the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN), recognises the value of the positions funded by the Queensland Government, as an aid to developing ICAN’s own NILS program in remote Indigenous communities.
“Overcoming the logistical challenges of establishing NILS in remote Indigenous communities wouldn’t be possible without the guidance and support of the NILS Expansion Project,” says Mr Davis. “The supply of essential household items, including fridges, washing machines and generators can have huge impacts on people’s health. If the government is serious about closing the gap, projects like the NILS Expansion Project need to continue, so other disadvantaged communities can reap the benefits.”

Despite having a 10-year history in Queensland, until recently, access to the NILS program has largely been restricted to select Brisbane suburbs.

With the increase in programs, access is now available in ‘pockets’ across the state. With an established $15 million commitment from the National Australia Bank thus far, further opportunities exist for communities in Queensland to establish NILS programs. The missing link now is the government’s continued funding for the development of these much-needed programs.

One such program that has benefited from the support of the NILS Expansion Project provides NILS loans to low-income earners across Cairns.

“NILS has provided an essential resource to low-income earners who would otherwise find it impossible to access small loans at an affordable rate, “ says Sharon Large, service manager Shelter Housing Action Cairns. “Having generated more than $300,000 in loans with a default rate of less than 3 per cent, we know this is something that works.”

Anne, a disability pensioner who recently received a NILS Loan for a fridge, says ,“When my old fridge stopped working after a power surge, I was really worried about where I was going to keep my insulin. It needs to be refrigerated or it spoils. I was keeping it in my neighbour’s fridge for a while until somebody told me about the NILS program. It has been fantastic and you only repay what you borrow.”