Andrew Thompson sits on his single bed in the front of a factory in Melbourne’s outer southeast.
The cavernous unheated space, with its makeshift kitchen and bathroom, is home for the father and taxi licence owner – at least for now.
Mr Thompson’s real home is long gone, sold in a forced auction when he couldn’t meet the repayments. A $670,000 debt hangs around his neck like “a noose”.
Andrew Thompson is determined to get out of his financial situation but could be bankrupt in weeks.
“I’ve been to night school trying to learn how to do a second job because I’m trying to get myself out of this situation.”
The 45-year-old’s situation is not uncommon as the taxi industry undergoes unprecedented change.
Mr Thompson bought three licences from the government in 2012, borrowing against his house to the tune of nearly $800,000. They seemed like a sure bet.
But just four years later in August 2016, the Andrews Government announced an overhaul of the commercial passenger vehicle industry, buying back licences at a fraction of their worth – some of which were bought for more than $500,000 at their peak value.
Working up to 20 hours a day in two jobs to clear his debt, Mr Thompson rarely sees his wife and 19-month-old son, who sleep on a fold-out couch with relatives.
“I’m not going to make a baby sleep in a freezing cold factory. Also, children protection would take my baby like that,” he said, snapping his fingers, “So I can’t do it”.
Life hasn’t always been this way. Hanging next to Mr Thompson’s bed is a picture of a man under bright lights in happier times.
“I love doing music and stuff and I want to get back into music. I spent six weeks at the Opera College in Italy. It was just amazing.”
“I don’t want to be bankrupt at 45 and have to start all over again.”
“My marriage is on the rocks. You try telling your partner ‘We’re going to have to start buying home brand stuff, we’re going to have to start going without because I haven’t got enough money’. You know, it’s just basics; essentials. It’s just terrible.”
Hundreds of taxi licence owners have found themselves in similar mountains of debt.
Federal Labor MP for Holt Anthony Byrne has supported members of the taxi industry for the past two years and said people were at breaking point.
“Many families have struggled to cope with the ongoing financial stress. In some cases people have suicided because of the stress,” he said.
In April, Mr Byrne wrote to Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev directly asking Mr Thompson be given hardship assistance.
“It is vital to do more to support the families in the taxi and hire car industry who are experiencing enormous financial stress at present.”
More than 1200 people are thought to have applied for the government’s $50 million “fairness fund”, designed to provide urgent financial assistance, but only several hundred have been paid since it was announced last August.
Taxi licence holders are receiving $100,000 for their first licence and $50,000 for their second, third and fourth. Transition assistance payments began this week but those affected say it’s not enough to get them out of debt.
Victorian Taxi and Hire Car Families president Sandy Spanos said it was “legislation on the run”.
“No thought has gone into it. There is no understanding of the ramifications on individuals,” she said.
A Transport for Victoria spokeswoman told Fairfax Media the reforms would “improve services, boost choice and reduce fares for Victorian passengers”.
“Passengers are already experiencing more choice in who they travel with and generous financial assistance for the existing industry is now being provided,” she said.
The industry is still in the dark over when their licences will be cancelled.
Mr Thompson said he didn’t like to “whinge and moan”.
“I’m just hoping to get out of this in one piece.”