As we move into a new financial year, we see changes taking place that can both benefit and impact the people we work with. Changes to Superannuation may impact insurances on accounts with balances less than $6000 and there has been a lot of education for our colleagues by industry partners to ensure we can provide the best advice for our clients. These changes were introduced to prevent fees and insurances eroding smaller superannuation balances which can also impact our clients.
The new Banking Code of Practice came into effect on 1 July 2019 which has been simplified and is more accessible for clients to engage and seek their rights in relation to banking products, services and transactions. This includes banks proactively taking steps to identify customers in financial hardship, a clear statement about potential hardship options available to consumers, the inclusion of family violence and access for indigenous consumers in working with customers in vulnerable circumstances, assessment on application of ability for a customer to repay a credit card balance within a 3 years period. It also covers simplified information, protections and rights for small businesses and guarantors. The new Banking Code is a set of enforceable standards monitored and enforced by the Banking Code Compliance Committee.
The Raise the Rate campaign led by ACOSS and strongly supported by our sector has stepped up over the past couple of weeks with many discussions in federal parliament about what it is like to live on $17 a day after paying rent. The answer coming from government is to get a job, however as we know in the work we do this simplistic solution is not a one size fits all.
I often think back to the time I met with a proud woman at the back of the local Salvation Army store to give her a couple of bags of groceries so that she would be able to eat that week. She loved her job, she lived a simple life, however after returning to work following a workplace accident she was monitored and eventually dismissed. This was the workplace she had worked at since leaving school. The people she worked with were her community and due to no fault of her own she lost everything she knew.
At the age of 55 she found herself living alone on Newstart with $40 left each fortnight for food, after paying rent and utilities. She was registered with an employment agency for over 12 months, during that time she had completed a Certificate in Disability and a Certificate in Aged Care. She couldn’t even afford the fuel on Newstart to travel to placement for her course. When I asked her if the employment agency had assisted her to apply for any jobs, the answer was NO. She didn’t understand why they hadn’t helped her to find work, it probably didn’t help that the rural town she lived in, her hometown, only had a handful of jobs at any one time. Yet the same small town had three government funded employment agencies.
How are people supposed to get ahead? How can they maintain their dignity, health and wellbeing while they are unemployed if the system is working against them? I have met with many people who have been contemplating suicide because they can no longer see hope in their situation, they want to work, but on Newstart they have slowly lost their confidence and ability to meet their basic needs.
And then the same people struggling to make ends meet, struggling to survive are targeted by payday loans and consumer leases as a carrot to cover their basic needs. This is the hardest part of the work we do, to work with people who at no fault of their own are at the mercy of this broken system.
To finish on a positive note, the Board has been advocating with Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) to acknowledge the importance of FCRC member participation in working groups, committees and Board. FCRC cannot function effectively if members are constrained from participation. We are extremely pleased that CAV has responded positively to our request that it clarify with funded agencies that participation in FCRC groups can count as funded outreach activity. We understand consequential changes will flow through to funding agreements over the next few months. We are grateful for the positive relationship we have established with CAV on this, providing support to our sector in making a difference to the lives and wellbeing of the people we work with.