Interview with Veronica Griffiths, VincentCare

Interview with Veronica Griffiths, VincentCare

Please tell us about your background.

I previously worked in community welfare within the education sector in student wellbeing. Prior to that, I worked in prevention and recovery care with people experiencing chronic mental health issues.


What motivated you to become a financial capability worker?

Financial problems were a major part of the work I did assisting students. Wanting to assist people to improve their financial literacy and understanding to enable them to manage their financial situations became a focus for me.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

Seeing the difference it can make in a person’s life when they are able to use a budget to reduce their debt and begin to save for a goal for the first time is very satisfying. The client takes back control of their finances, their decision making, their own power and confidence.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

There are two cases which immediately spring to mind, both very different.

Client A had fallen behind with their rates due to health issues and had received a court date. Advocacy and support was provided to negotiate with the council to reduce the debt, avoid court and initiate an affordable payment plan. Client A was able to keep their home.

Client B was a young person who had made some uninformed decisions and acquired numerous small debts on a limited income. Client B was extremely proficient with technology. Support was provided to develop a budget in Excel. Over 6 weeks, Client B had eliminated half the debts and was in control of the remainder, paying regular amounts fortnightly. Client B had new priorities and had developed a plan for the future.

When the client can look into the future with hope instead of dread you know a difference has been made.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

This work does take patience and time and the issues don’t always have a swift resolution. I sometimes feel like whatever I do isn’t enough. One time when I was feeling this way, stressed and overworked, a wise lady said to me, “Someone’s mismanagement isn’t my crisis”. This probably sounds strange, but saying this to myself helps me to slow down and allow the calm to return. It helps me to keep things in perspective, remember self-care and implement the things I need to do to prevent burn out. I love what I do and I want to be around to keep doing it.


What TV show are you currently watching?

I tend to watch movies and series on Netflix. Currently watching “Cursed”.


Who are your favourite musicians?

John Butler, The Waifs, Ani DiFranco

Integrated Services Project – Our training program is in full swing!

Integrated Services Project – Our training program is in full swing!

The partnership between FCVic and Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), the Integrated Services Project (ISP) aims to improve client outcomes through financial counsellors and social security lawyers working together more effectively.


Training

We’re excited to report that our Continuous Professional Development (CPD) program is now in full swing online. Karl from the Integrated Services Project is presenting a series of CPD sessions for financial counsellors, with the next unit in the series to be presented on 4 August: Centrelink debts and why they have been raised against your client, which considers common reasons for debts being raised, and delves into leveraging the Freedom of Information (FoI) process to give you the information you need to understand why Centrelink has raised a debt against your client.


Following on from this, on 19 August is Debts and FoI in depth where we will look at interpreting the documents from Centrelink’s FoI process, applying the law, and tips on writing a review request to have the debt decision reconsidered.


This and other sessions will be available for FCVic members to register for soon – keep an eye on the FCVic Events Calendar!


Case Study

A Centrelink debt – like all large debts – can be a cause of enormous strain for our clients. A financial counsellor contacted us on the Worker Help Line in relation to Narelle’s matter:


Narelle* was overpaid more than $5 000 of Parenting Payment. Narelle sought assistance with appealing this debt. The reason for the overpayment was a failure by Centrelink to consider Narelle’s partner’s income when calculating her fortnightly payments.


Narelle had done everything Centrelink required of her and complied with the instructions they had sent her. Narelle completed her yearly income estimate for FTB and was never made aware that she had to report her partner’s income for Parenting Payment differently. Narelle didn’t receive any letters showing her partner’s income as incorrect, and that if they were sent to her myGov account they shouldn’t have been, as she had previously requested they be sent to her physically.


The financial counsellor was integral in connecting Narelle with SSRV. The financial counsellor first made contact via the Worker Help Line and requested for SSRV to review Narelle’s situation and the Authorised Review Officer (ARO) decision. She was also responsible for making the initial application to the AAT.


The connection with the financial counsellor helped to enhance SSRV’s interactions with Narelle. She was able to provide the hands-on support Narelle required, and assist her with things like filling in forms.


The financial counsellor’s expertise was also incredibly valuable in this matter. Preparing a “statement of financial circumstances” is not something that legal staff are generally experienced with, equipped for, or even qualified to do, but the information is crucial in showing Narelle had financial hardship for the purposes of a special circumstances waiver.


In short, the financial counsellor provided support, experience and expertise that a community legal centre such as SSRV can tend to lack.


The result for Narelle was a reduction in the amount of overpayment that would be recovered, and a refund of some of the money she had already paid back. For a client experiencing financial disadvantage, extra money in her pocket was a real win.


The integrated service helped to achieve this first through the referral pathway for Narelle into SSRV’s service, which may never had happened if not for her being linked in with a financial counsellor, and second through the support and enhancement of that service by the financial counsellor.


Latest Information on JobSeeker

Economic Justice Australia has released an update on their JobSeeker and COVID-19 webpage http://ejaustralia.org.au/latest-news/jobseeker-and-covid-19/ which incorporates last week’s announcements, including the re-instatement of the assets tests, and the larger income test free area limits of $300 for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance.


Get in touch

Please contact Lawyer Karl Schaffarczyk (karl@ssrv.org.au) or Financial Counsellor Patricia Bove (Patricia@ssrv.org.au) at SSRV to discuss the Integrated Services Project and related services and activities. We are keen to hear from financial counsellors about issues impacting upon your clients and their social security entitlements and to discuss potential collaboration opportunities.


Advice Lines

Financial counsellors are invited to call the SSRV Worker Help Line (0429 450 346*/ 03 9481 0655 – 9.00am-5.00pm, Monday – Thursday) for information and support in assisting clients with Centrelink matters and to make referrals to SSRV.


Individuals can be referred the SSRV General Advice Line (0419 793 652*/ 03 9481 0355), which is operating between 9.30am -12.30pm, Monday to Thursday).


These are the primary pathways for intake and assessment for further legal casework and representation services.


*Direct mobile phone numbers to telephone advice services while SSRV delivers services remotely during the COVID-19 response period. Calls to the usual numbers will be diverted to these mobile numbers.

Chairperson’s message – July 2020

Chairperson’s message – July 2020

As Victorians we stand together fighting the scourge of COVID-19. We do this in simple ways: washing our hands, wearing a mask, maintaining 1.5m social distance. We also do this as an industry through our work, providing support for those who have lost their jobs, businesses, and their financial security.


For many agencies, referrals to financial counselling services have temporarily slowed and this has helped get waitlists under control. Overworked financial counsellors are finally getting a moment to catch their breath, but are not afforded the privilege of being able to relax as the spectre of the future looms over us.


Both tiers of government have brought us into the tent to help deal with the fallout from the virus. The Federal Government has provided additional funding to agencies to expand the sector for the projected surge in demand.


The State Government is providing extra funding to FCVic to work on key projects, and FCVic has been busy planning these new projects in the mental health, utilities and tenancy spaces.


FCVic has also been recruiting to help with workforce development and training, as well as feeding into various other projects and campaigns, such as the Raise the Rate campaign.


Work is being done to prepare a one-day industry summit for next year, as well as an electronic AGM as an alternative to the one normally held alongside the conference. Luckily, our new constitution when revamped last year included provisions for electronic, remote participation.


In dark times we have to remember what we are grateful for. I am grateful I am a financial counsellor. Whilst many other sectors are doing it tough right now, our sector looks like it will come out the other side of this crisis stronger and with a larger membership.


I am also happy that people on Jobseeker are finally getting enough money to live on. Hopefully, the government sees the light and raises the rate permanently, instead of leaving people to languish in abject poverty. With so many people stuck on Centrelink, the pressure to raise the rate can only help the cause.