As we prepare for the latest issue of the Devil’s Advocate, 31 March is upon us. This is the date from which we are anticipating a return to the pre-pandemic levels of chronic high demand for financial counselling, driven by the Morrison Government’s decision to reduce JobSeeker to well below the poverty line. With the ending of JobKeeper on 28 March likely to result in significant increases in unemployment, large numbers of Australians will be drastically affected by this cruel decision. Also, there are deep concerns in Victoria at the likely scale of energy disconnection activities recommencing as government restrictions on energy retailers are eased from the start of April, so much so that the Essential Services Commission has announced it intends to maintain some restrictions at least until the end of June 2021.
From our surveying of members’ experiences during the pandemic, demand for financial counselling clearly dropped as a result of COVID moratoriums on debt in banking and utilities and the much improved jobseeker payments. However, working often remotely and 95% by phone on COVID-complicated client situations, brought additional complexities and time-consuming processes into the work of financial counsellors. Many financial counsellors still experienced heavy workloads during the pandemic peak, even with the volume of clients needing support reduced. Given the supports that suppressed demand for financial counselling are all being removed, and unemployment is now higher than it was before the pandemic, FCVic will be maintaining a close watch on levels of demand and doing what we can to build capacity in the sector in coming months. We have raised these issues with the Victorian Government, and look forward to working with the Government to plan for appropriate responses to changing community needs.
As we slowly emerge from isolation, we were excited to hold an in-person strategic review gathering of our Board, convenors of networks and working groups and staff on 16 March. For us all, it was the first time in 12 months we had been able to be in a room together, and a valuable chance to think and share about what is most important to our organisation. In broad terms our current strategic plan, which was adopted two years ago and runs until mid-next year, still looked relevant, but we focused on some of the immediate challenges and priorities for FCVic in light of rapidly changing circumstances. A summary of the outcomes of the session is being prepared for the Board at present.
Lastly, we are excited to be preparing for an in-person COVID Industry Summit event to be held at the Timber Yard Port Melbourne on 22 April. We have well over 150 registrations already, and given the venue has limited seating capacity to enable compliance with COVIDSafe requirements, if you have not registered already we suggest you register now to avoid missing out.