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Schools' 'bankrupt threat'

Schools' 'bankrupt threat'

Some struggling Sydney families are facing financial ruin from schools, all because they tried to give their children a good education.

7News can reveal some schools are threatening to bankrupt families if they cannot pay their school fees, even for amounts as small as $6000.

Thomas Hassell College has taken the Rodriguez family from Cecil Hills to court over $7890 dollars in unpaid school fees.

Daughter Karina says the school has shown no compassion.

She said: “I asked them if we can afford $200 a week or $200 a fortnight. They literally said that's not enough to pay your debt off.“

Ana's husband Victor has already been bankrupted by the school. Then, debt collectors hounded her for the money.

“Very very angry," said Ana. “We have been shown no support from the school."

National Debt collector Roger Mendelson from debt collection service Prushka says it is not just private schools who chase parents for payment.

He acts for dozens of public schools who try to recoup fees as little as a few hundred dollars.

Fiona Guthrie, Executive Director for Financial Counselling Australia added: “What is particularly tragic is you can be made bankrupt for a debt just over $5000, so a relatively small debt can lead to you losing thousands and thousands of dollars.

7News has spoken to 15 families who feel bullied but who are too embarrassed to talk on camera.

In New South Wales, families owe more than half a million dollars. One Riverwood woman bravely agreed to speak out but wanted her identity protected.

She said: “It's a very stressful period, it - makes you feel very helpless.”

Danebank Girls School in Hurstville has launched bankruptcy action after she lost her job. The family owe almost $9000 and claim they have pleaded for time to pay off their debt in instalments.

That family is not alone. 7News has obtained court documents which show 16 Sydney families have been threatened with bankruptcy over unpaid fees in the past year. Five have already been bankrupted.

In one case a single mum is facing financial ruin, owing $68,000 to St Catherine's School in Waverley where school fees are as high as $28,000 a year.

Dr Julie Townsend, Principal of Waverley Girls, said: “I think it's financially responsible for the many many parents we have who sacrifice a lot to send their children here they would want to know we are running the school financially and solidly as well as we can.”

Geoff and Wendy Mitchell were both bankrupted by Kincoppal in Rose Bay. Their debt is $39,000. They were also hit with $7000 in court costs.

St Paul's Grammar in Penrith bankrupted Werrington mother Carol Sarkis over $20,000. We approached headmaster Paul Kidson who agreed to be interviewed but then suddenly withdrew.

Dr Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, said: “Petitioning for bankruptcy we don't think is harsh or unreasonable.”

Dr Scandrett is spokesperson for 19 Anglican schools across Sydney and warns we could soon follow British schools in forcing parents to use their homes as security.

“Well it certainly could happen, caveats are placed over assets such as houses. They are have incurred a debt and they are refusing to pay that debt.

Five families, just like the Rodriguez's, will stare down the barrel of bankruptcy when they are due back in the federal circuit court next month.

In a statement the NSW Education Department said it was unaware public schools were hiring debt collectors - and if it did become aware it would stop them.