Canadian banks, telecommunications companies and utilities are offering relief to customers affected by the spread of novel coronavirus, waiving fees and providing flexibility on certain payments.
With job losses and business disruption increasing daily, several large Canadian banks are returning to a playbook developed during the 2008-09 financial crisis, offering hard-hit customers the option of deferring payments on things such as mortgages and business loans, with the goal of lessening defaults and insolvencies.
Utilities are agreeing not to cut off customers unable to make bill payments, and telecommunications companies are lifting internet data-overage fees to assist the millions of Canadians who will soon be working from home, while also cutting roaming charges for customers stuck overseas.
Bank of Montreal, for instance, is encouraging customers “directly impacted by COVID-19 and experiencing financial stresses” to reach out to the bank to develop a financial relief program.
This could include “deferral of payments on loans, mortgages and credit, reversal of fees for individuals with unanticipated fees, and accommodations for BMO Small Business and Business Banking clients,” BMO spokeswoman Julie Smithers said on Monday.
Royal Bank of Canada is looking at “certain fee waivers and reversals, short-term payment deferrals on mortgages, personal loans and credit cards,” while Toronto-Dominion Bank is considering “reversing fees or payment holidays on loans,” on a client-by-client basis, through its TD Helps program, which was developed during the financial crisis.
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is working with hard-hit clients on a case-by-case basis to “improve their cash flow over the short term by reviewing their payment obligations,” said spokesman Geoff Dillon.
National Bank of Canada is reviewing programs it developed in recent years to help customers cope with natural disasters such as flooding and forest fires, “to make sure they are still fully accurate in the current context,” said spokesman Jean-François Cadieux.
The Bank of Nova Scotia declined to comment.
The banks will be supported in this by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), which insures mortgages. The agency will support lenders in allowing deferral of mortgage payments for up to six months for those impacted by the virus. CMHC said it has done this in the past, such as when homeowners had trouble making ends meet after the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016.
CHMC also offers other “default management tools” such as lengthening the original amortization period on mortgages to lower monthly payments and adding any missed payments to the mortgage balance and spreading them over the remaining repayment period.
Canada’s three largest telecommunications companies also announced steps on Monday to ease monthly bill payments for people facing financial hardship due to illness or job loss. Both Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Communications Inc. announced that they would offer more “flexible payment options” and waive certain roaming fees for Canadians who are travelling abroad.
Rogers, Telus and Bell Canada all said that they are waiving overage fees and lifting data caps on home internet plans as millions of Canadians work from home and look for entertainment amid social-distancing measures.
Several of the country’s largest utilities, including Ontario’s Hydro One, BC Hydro and Alberta’s ENMAX Corp. also announced that they will be flexible on payments.
BC Hydro said that people facing temporary financial hardship due to job loss or illness may be eligible for grants of up to $600 to help pay their bills, and will be able to defer payments or arrange flexible payment plans with no penalty.
Both ENMAX and Hydro One said they will not disconnect customers for non-payment, with Hydro One extending its Winter Relief program.
“We are on a case-by-case basis providing incremental bill relief for customers based on situations of hardship. We’ve done similar things for tornadoes and floods and things of that nature; it could be a waiving of fee payments, it could be some kind of monetary relief for delivery charges. It would really depend on an individual basis,” said Imran Merali, Hydro One’s vice-president of customer service.
“We obviously have to protect ratepayers and everybody else, so we can’t stop charging people altogether, but there really are some customers that are struggling and if we can even do a little bit to help them, I think that’s our duty,” Mr. Merali said.
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