This month marks the anniversary of the storm and flood events that impacted communities across Victoria in June 2021. For the past nine months, FCVic has been working alongside the community organisations, which were funded by the Victorian Government to deliver financial counselling to affected residents, to build sector capacity and support recovery efforts.
The eight financial counsellors – who were employed across the five regions, at Anglicare Victoria in Gippsland and Bendigo, Cafs Ballarat, EACH in the Yarra Ranges, and South East Community Links in Cardinia Shire – have worked ceaselessly to overcome complications and challenges in order to secure fair outcomes for their clients. As any financial counsellor who has worked in the disaster recovery space will tell you, this is not normal financial counselling – everything takes longer – and no two disasters are the same.
Among the challenges, the most significant set of issues – as identified by the financial counsellors in both the Storm and Flood Recovery Support Program and the Bushfire Recovery Program (which commenced in January 2020) – are those related to insurance. These issues can range from disputes with insurance companies over settlement offers to delayed assessments or denial of coverage, and perhaps the most frustrating: a failure to recognise the financial counsellor’s role as an authorised representative, which creates further unnecessary delays. For the financial counsellors who have been around long enough, the interactions with the insurance industry are reminiscent of financial counsellors’ dealings with the banking industry going back 10 or so years. Thankfully, we have seen significant improvements in the banking space since then, which are much needed in the insurance industry.
FCVic’s network of disaster recovery financial counsellors continues to meet regularly and provide practitioners with the opportunity to share and learn from each other, and celebrate successes – even as small as an insurance provider accepting the financial counsellor’s authority to act. The network has also been a useful mechanism for identifying systemic insurance issues which FCVic has begun advocating on, through meetings with the Insurance Council of Australia and the Australian Financial Complaints Authority’s (AFCA) Lead Insurance Ombudsman.
We understand there are upwards of 30 cases related to insurance complaints from the June storm and flood events currently open with AFCA. Having only just passed the 12-month milestone for that disaster, we can expect that there are more cases yet to come, despite the recovery program officially winding down over the next six months.
While there is still a long way to go to address the challenges in this space, it’s important to acknowledge the accomplishments of the program to date – both at the individual client level and at a broader sectoral level. The knowledge and expertise that has emerged from this group is being captured in FCVic’s Disaster Recovery Financial Counselling Toolkit to make the job a little bit easier for the next group of financial counsellors deployed in response to an emergency event. Additionally, we continue to grow our list of mentors in this specialist area as a result of the significant upskilling that each of the practitioners have undertaken.
Our sincere thanks to the financial counsellors: Emma, Kim, Nicole, Maher, Bridget, Viv, Dani and Cathy – and to the teams and mentors who have supported them to do to this work. You should be proud of your achievements.