The Commonwealth Bank will provide nearly 250 customers affected by the Mr Fluffy crisis with a $10,000 special assistance payment – costing the bank around $2.5 million.
For mortgage holders Joanne and Peter Berry, the timing of the announcement could not be more perfect.
The family was forced to abandon their Macgregor home in July after loose amosite asbestos was found in their cupboards and living room.
Coming so close to Christmas, the family said it would take the pressure off after a devastating year in which they have had to leave most of their possessions behind. Joanna and Peter are also caring for their 30-year-old son Greg, who has a disability, and have had to depend on the goodwill of parishioners from the St James Anglican Church in Kippax to help provide them with basics, including furniture and bedding.
Commonwealth Bank retail banking group executive Matt Comyn announced the special payment on Thursday which will go to all Commonwealth Bank customers taking part in the ACT government buy-back scheme.
"With Christmas just a few weeks away, this is a particularly crucial time for many people and we hope this assistance can bring some relief," Mr Comyn said.
The Commonwealth Bank was one of the first to recognise the special circumstances facing its ACT customers who were caught up in the Mr Fluffy crisis – dedicating the same crisis support team members it had made available in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines crash earlier this year.
The team will assess each customer's position and determine access to bridging finance, interest-free periods and fee-free holidays.
About a quarter of all 1021 Mr Fluffy households in Canberra are estimated to be with the Commonwealth Bank.
"As the nation's largest lender we recognise the emotional and financial stress this is causing our affected ACT customers, and we wanted to ensure our customers and their families felt they could get the right support and understanding from their bank," said Mr Comyn.
"We understand each customer's needs will be different but we are committed to approaching each case with sensitivity and compassion. We are already in discussion with some affected customers and we will continue to work closely with the relevant government and community organisations to identify additional affected customers."
In August, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher put banks and utility companies on notice that they should come to the aid of families dealing with Mr Fluffy homes.
Ms Gallagher wrote to 50 banks, credit unions, insurers, electricity, gas, water and telecommunications companies, asking them to consider fee waivers, concessions and flexibility around charges and repayments while families negotiated their way through the ACT government's $1 billion buy-back and demolition package.
Since then, a dozen other banks have formally advised the ACT government they will be providing a compassionate response.
These include the ANZ, BankWest, Bendigo Bank, Macquarie Bank, ME Bank, NAB, Suncorp, St George, Westpac, Teacher's Mutual and Beyond Bank.
Ms Gallagher said "It's great to see the corporate world getting behind Mr Fluffy homeowners. More banks are signing up to offer support all the time. The nature of the support varies, but includes dedicated customer service staff and a range of other measures like fee waivers and reduced rates. This unprecedented offer from the Commonwealth Bank is fantastic. I thank them for approaching this issue with empathy and generosity".
Founder of the Fluffy Owners and Residents' Action Group Brianna Heseltine said "it's not every day you shed tears of gratitude after ending a call with a ... bank executive. Once again Matt Comyn has demonstrated his understanding of the enormous hardship faced by hundreds of Commonwealth Bank Mr Fluffy home loan customers."
"The $10,000 payment will help many families replace contaminated items but the sheer generosity and goodwill behind the Commonwealth Bank's gift transcends the dollar value. This gift will lift the spirits of families in ways you just can't measure in the lead up to what for many will be their last Christmas in their family homes," Ms Heseltine said.
She encouraged other lending institutions to follow suit to assist families "after what so many have described as the worst year of their lives", Ms Heseltine said.