New Face at Social Security Rights Victoria, Continuity of Service

New Face at Social Security Rights Victoria, Continuity of Service

Welcome to our new financial counsellor!

In contrast to the continual news cycle of COVID-19, we bring you happier news.

We welcome Patricia Bove to SSRV and the Integrated Services Project (ISP). Patricia has 18 years of experience in working with vulnerable clients, and strong experience with Centrelink supports, procedures, and policy. Her addition to the team adds significant strength to SSRV.

Patricia is looking forward to working with financial counsellors across the state to develop partnerships and further integrated service delivery.

Welcome to new Financial Counsellors

We extend a warm welcome and congratulations to all new financial counsellors. We acknowledge the hard work you’ve put in to get here, and the no-doubt harder, but very rewarding work ahead of you.

The Integrated Services Project aims to improve client outcomes through financial counsellors and social security experts working together effectively. We look forward to meeting each of you soon!

Continuity and expansion of Advice Lines

Our advice service continues uninterrupted. We encourage you or your clients to get in touch for information or assistance regarding Centrelink matters such being rejected for payments, compliance and debt issues.

In response to greater demand, we have expanded our General Advice Line from operation to four mornings each week. Service times are now:

  • General Advice Line operates Monday to Thursday, 9.30am-12.30pm, 03 9481 0355 option 1
  • Worker Help Line operates Monday to Thursday, 9.00am-5.00pm, 03 9481 0655

If you have a more general query or would like to know more about the Integrated Services Project, please feel most welcome to contact Karl – karl@ssrv.org.au, or Patricia – patricia@ssrv.org.au

The ISP is funded by the Victorian Government Department of Justice and Community Safety with funding administered by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

Chairperson’s message – March 2020

Chairperson’s message – March 2020

Martin Luther King said [paraphrased to remove gendered language], “the ultimate test of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.” If this is true, I know that historically all of us can stand tall. Both myself and the FCVic Board hope to support you to continue to do so into the future.

Financial counsellors already know about the challenges that exist out there. Those who have been around long enough have seen the reforms our sector has driven. Reforms that when conceived were often considered controversial. 

The FCA conference has been postponed. The FCVic history and launch event has been postponed. I am sure that most if not all of you have seen the queues or pictures of the queues at Centrelink; have friends and relatives who have been laid off work or had their hours reduced; know retirees who have had their nest egg diminished by the decline in the stock market. These are dark times, but I am mindful that what we have to offer as a profession is a message of hope.

Due to the tireless work of leaders in our field, governments are starting to really grasp the true value of our profession. This can be seen in the Federal Government’s announcement over the weekend to increase funding to support financial counselling, and in the responses of both State and Federal Governments to the bushfire disaster. FCVic is engaging at a state-level and we hope that the good relationships that have been built with key stakeholders will ensure the valuable role of our sector is recognised in any state-based response.

The way we do things is changing and there are many hurdles. FCVic staff are now working from home. I am writing to you from my kitchen table and some of you are probably reading it there.  All of this brings new obstacles and challenges. In spite of this, FCVic and its Board are doing their utmost to support the sector through this difficult time, as well as making sure that any growth does not lead to a diminishing of professional standards.

The Counting the Costs report on financial counsellor stress and work overload was successfully launched. The implementation of recommendations from the report is still being pursued. They say don’t bring your work home with you. This is no longer the case. It is of paramount importance that we maintain a healthy work/life balance especially as we will probably all be working from home for some time to come. Caseloads are of pronounced importance to a healthy workforce and now is the time to focus on our health. The FCVic Board and staff want you all to stay well. Stay well my friends.

Executive Officer’s message

Executive Officer’s message

On 4 February 2020, Dr Grant Blashki, chief clinical advisor for Beyond Blue, launched FCVic’s report Counting the Costs. The report draws on comprehensive research identifying just how widespread the levels of stress are for financial counsellors in Victoria, and identifies recommendations to the various system stakeholders to help manage the risks posed by heavy and unrelenting demand from crisis casework. FCVic is sending the report to agencies and funding bodies with correspondence inviting their consideration of its recommendations, and we look forward to further dialogue about these issues. They are complex and the demand drivers are not going away, but this just emphasises how important it is to protect financial counsellors from the risks posed by the situation.

Our colleagues in other states have been very interested to see the work we have done in this space, and the Financial Counsellors’ Association of NSW (FCAN) last year undertook a survey, adapted from our instrument and using the same researcher to ensure it would be possible to compare the data.  They will be publishing this work soon.

Speaking of launches, on 16 March we will be formally launching our new name, along with a 40 year history of the organisation. All members and associated stakeholders are welcome to attend, and you can register to attend here.

We are also excited to announce that we have been awarded a Statewide Carers partnership grant, through Department of Health and Human Services. The grant is for $730,000 over three years, and will involve developing financial counselling and financial literacy awareness and service delivery models with carer groups in Victoria, in collaboration with Carers Victoria as their peak body. This is an exciting opportunity to develop not only a wider awareness of financial counselling, and also training and development that will help FCs to work effectively with carer clients, but to develop an evidence base about the impacts from a boosted financial counselling engagement with the carers sector.

Alongside these developments, we have continued to work on supporting the sector in responding to the bushfire devastation in the East Gippsland and Upper Murray regions. Bev Kliger (along with her colleague Meredith Carter) and Annette Lumsden have been doing the leg work in this area for FCVic over the last month, but it is important to acknowledge the hard work and demands on front line financial counsellors and their agencies, which will only be increasing as demand for assistance picks up in the affected areas.

Lastly, I want to thank Kate Meakin, my executive assistant for the last 6 months. Kate has an opportunity to undertake a masters in her field, along with teaching work so is leaving us. She has been a valued member of our team, and it would have been great to have her for longer, but sometimes when opportunity knocks people have to go to the next thing. We wish her all the best in her future endeavours.

Interview with Sarah Brown-Shaw, Consumer Action Law Centre

Interview with Sarah Brown-Shaw, Consumer Action Law Centre

Please tell us about your background.

I am currently employed by Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) as a Senior Financial Counsellor , where I have been working on the National Debt Helpline (NDH, previously MoneyHelp) for the past 8 years. Prior to this I worked as an Enquiries Officer at Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) – where I would answer questions relating to various pieces of legislation including Residential Tenancies, Fair Trading (Now ACL), Owners Corporation, Motor Car Traders & Domestic Building amongst others. My background is  actually in Youth & Community Development. I worked as a Youth Worker for about 15 years both here and in the UK – but not long after moving permanently to Australia (in 2002) decided that I’d like to do something completely different so I settled for a nice comfortable part time government job which suited me perfectly when my children were little.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I first found out about financial counselling when I was working at CAV. The enquiries team would often refer people to financial counsellors and I became curious about what FCs do. Once I found out I thought it sounded amazing! With my background in Youth/Community work as well as my knowledge of legislation, I thought it sounded like a great fit for me. The timing was perfect too as there were limited opportunities for career progression at CAV – especially for those needing/wanting to work part-time and I was getting restless. I remember emailing FCRC back in 2010/11 to ask about becoming an FC and was informed about the Diploma of Financial Counselling that was about to start at Vic Uni (2011) so I signed up pretty much on the spot & haven’t looked back!


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

I absolutely love my role at CALC/NDH. It’s funny because I never really imagined staying in this role for this long! I was initially taken on as a trainee as I was still completing the diploma. I think I imagined staying for a couple of years and using it as a bit of a stepping stone but 8 years on I’m still here. What I love about my role is the variety, my day is never boring. As well as working on the advice line, I’m regularly involved in training and supporting new staff, working with policy, speaking to external groups about our service and the work of FCs, hosting various VIPs for ‘A Day in the Life’ and I also get to work at the Federal Court every second week as a financial counsellor which I particularly enjoy. There’s always something going on in the office – late last year we hosted Scott Pape and his entire film crew!


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

We often focus on the ‘big ticket’ wins and obviously there is a strong focus on systemic issues for good reason, but for me I think some of my proudest achievements have been the impact I have had on an individual. Knowing that I’ve made a difference to that one person, being able to give them hope, to listen & not judge, to show them care & compassion, to relieve some of their immediate stress, offer some practical support (e.g. referral to a food bank) get them linked in with a local FC service for ongoing support and advocacy – that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. The impact that we have on peoples lives cannot be underestimated. It can literally be lifesaving.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

The biggest challenge I feel in the current political climate is definitely funding. For such a critical service that FCs provide, it’s outrageous that many have to practically fight to keep their jobs at the end of each funding cycle. There needs to be stability and certainty that the funding will be there, it should not be dependent on who’s in power at any given time and what their particular views/priorities are. I do feel that as a sector we need to be far more creative about where we obtain funding and not rely so heavily on the Government (both State & Federal).


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

I feel that I have been extremely fortunate coming into the Financial Counselling sector. The year I did my diploma was the first year that the diploma had been offered by Victoria University and coincided with the requirement that existing FCs needed to have the diploma. As a result, I found myself studying alongside a fantastic group of talented and experienced people – most of whom were working as FCs and had been doing so for quite some time. The expertise of the student group was invaluable to someone like myself who was brand new. I was also fortunate to have Bernadette Pasco as my tutor, as well as my supervisor for several years after qualifying.

My colleagues and co-workers at CALC, including my manager Penelope, have also been and continue to be an amazing resource. When I started as a trainee I felt so fortunate to be working alongside FC’s who had 10, 20+ years of experience. That’s a lot of knowledge to be passed on.


What book are you reading at the moment?

I love reading. I probably read 1-2 novels a week. I can’t get enough of reading – it’s definitely one of the main ways I unwind. I recently read The Tattooist of Auschwitz which I really enjoyed – so I ordered the sequel Cilka’s Journey from the library which I just finished on the weekend. I seem to have developed a particular passion for historical fiction lately – another book I absolutely loved was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.


What TV show are you currently watching?

The vast range of shows available on Netflix is a little overwhelming at times – there’s just so many great shows to watch. I recently finished watching The Crown . I’m not a royalist at all and really surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. Other shows I’ve enjoyed recently have been Years & Years (UK post Brexit – scary stuff) and have just this week started watching The Stranger (British thriller) not sure I should be watching these shows in bed just before falling asleep though!

News from the Integrated Services Project

News from the Integrated Services Project

Social Security Rights Victoria Inc. (‘SSRV’) and Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic) are continuing their partnership in 2020. The Integrated Services Project (ISP) has been funded for a second year. We look forward to continuing to improve client outcomes by bringing together the work of specialist social security lawyers and financial counsellors.

We are pleased to introduce Karl Schaffarczyk who takes over this year from Bryn Overend as the ISP Community Lawyer. Karl has strong experience in community justice, working as an aged care advocate assisting clients to stop elder abuse, and later as a tenancy lawyer. Karl is looking forward to working with financial counsellors across the state to develop partnerships and further integrated service delivery. Bryn has moved into the SSRV Principal Lawyer role. He will continue to support the project and SSRV’s work with the financial counselling sector.

The ISP Financial Counsellor position is currently being advertised. Applications close on 10 February 2020. This is a great opportunity for an experienced financial counsellor who is interested in contributing to innovative, cross-sector collaboration. Please view Jobs at the FCVic website or contact SSRV for further information.

We are all aware of the devastating impact of the bushfires on so many Victorians. We know that financial counsellors are at the frontline in assisting people and communities who have been affected. SSRV wishes to acknowledge this work and invite financial counsellors to get in touch if you or your clients require information or assistance regarding Centrelink matters such as being rejected for payments, compliance and debt issues.

  • >General Advice Line operates Monday and Wednesday, 9.30am-12.30pm, 03 9481 0355
  • >Worker Help Line operates Monday to Thursday, 9.00am-5.00pm, 03 9481 0655

If you have a more general query or would like to know more about the Integrated Services Project, please feel most welcome to contact Karl – karl@ssrv.org.au, 03 9481 0299 (SSRV Administration Line). This Project is funded by the Victorian Government Department of Justice and Community Safety with funding administered by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

Chair’s report – January 2020

Chair’s report – January 2020

As I write this now it is raining outside, and I am glad. Normally, at this time of year rain would disappoint me. The bushfires have changed all this. By all reports, mega-fires and extreme weather events are the new norm.

There is an immediate sadness with all of this as we think of the victims of the bushfires, the loss of lives, the destruction to homes and livelihood, the destruction of the land where we have lived and played and destruction of the animals that walk upon it. There is also the existential sadness for a future when the environment becomes less habitable, for us and for our children.

However, there is a light that never goes out and that is the extraordinary capacity to endure, and the generosity of the average Australian and their propensity to give. Which, when I read the actual dollar amounts, staggers me and gives me hope.

To all those who are reading this who have been affected by the bushfires, or who have family and friends affected by the bushfires, my thoughts go out to you and so do the thoughts of the FCVic Board and staff.

FCVic has not been caught on the back foot by these events. We have been working behind the scenes long before this bushfire season started, lobbying hard for the inclusion of financial counselling in future disaster relief planning. When this current crisis unfurled the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) welcomed our offer of support and have brought us into the tent. FCVic aims to have financial counselling become an integral part of future disaster relief efforts.

The State Government has agreed to fund 9.5 FTE financial counsellors across both Gippsland and the Upper Murray region affected areas, as well as providing funding for FCVic to coordinate the response. To date, FCVic has received over 60 offers of support from the financial counselling sector! We have also employed Annette Lumsden to help coordinate the sector’s offers of assistance. To all of those who have offered support, thank you!

Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) has also received funding from the Federal Government and donations from the Westpac bank. I will be attending the FCA Representative Council meeting next month and will take part in discussions on how best to deploy these funds.

There has been a lot going on at the FCVic office and the good staff there have been run off their feet. As is obviously apparent though this communication, the name has changed. As of the twentieth of this month FCRC shed its skin and became FCVic.

The FCVic Board is looking to recruit another external board member. The position is advertised currently on the FCVic website and through Open Communities.

FCVic will also release a history of the Victorian financial counselling sector to mark FCRC/FCVic’s 40th anniversary. This will happen on the evening of the 16th of March to which you will all be invited, so save the date. More details to come. FCVic is working hard, so expect more positive announcements as the year progresses!

Sometimes in life what matters is how you walk through the fire, saying this, we have a lot to be proud about as a sector.

Interview with Joy Mason, Centrecare (WA)

Interview with Joy Mason, Centrecare (WA)

Please tell us about your background:

I grew up in country NSW and went to Sydney and Melbourne to attend university and nurse training. I returned to the country, then ended up in the wonderful Bendigo where I have bought a home. I came to financial counselling from a background in Nursing, Community Development and Mental Health. I stumbled across financial counselling when I saw an advertisement in the local paper and was lucky enough to gain the position and train as an FC at RMIT. Before that, I didn’t know there was such a thing as financial counsellors.

What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

It’s an area of work where you can genuinely make a difference. To be truthful, I found working in mental health draining and sometimes unsatisfying. I was also a programme manager and started seeking work where I could just work with clients and not manage people.

I have had a background in being part of a low income family, have been a poverty stricken single parent, have worked and studied while children were young and have been in post marriage debt. So I feel I bring some life experiences to this role that are beyond my training and career skillset and I understand the stress of poverty and debt.

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

My current role is unique in that I work remotely, work mainly with Aboriginal clients as well as with miners who are earning money that the rest of us only dream of!

The area I work in is economically subject to the changes in the gold economy and is therefore financially volatile. The outreach I provide is to remote communities, usually about 800kms per round trip and 4.5 hours to get there, I stay overnight in miners camps. Other staff who work in the organisation might travel to the lands, about a 12 hour trip on dirt roads. My role doesn’t travel so remotely but I get to see amazing scenery and incredible wild life – its been an adventure and a half. Aboriginal clients that I work with have English sometimes as their third language and live on Country.

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

To have the courage and the vision to travel to another state, to immerse myself into a remote community and to learn and learn and learn. It’s scary to leave your comfort zone, but it’s been so incredibly worthwhile and what I am coming home with cannot be priced.

I encourage anyone who has the ability to be flexible enough, to work in another state, to work remotely and to take up opportunities that the city or regional life will never offer you. Get amongst the red dirt and blue skys of WA – it is an experience that you wont regret. I am happy to be contacted to discuss possibilities and experiences, would love to chat about my experiences and possible opportunities you might have for employment in WA.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Funding, funding, funding! Always a challenge in the sector, but people need to have better job security and some certainty.

We are also an aging group – let’s encourage the younger folk. And proper training that allows new FCs to be an asset to an organisation – FCs training FCs.

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

The most valuable resource has been other FCs who are willing to share expertise and knowledge and who are a source of encouragement.

Advice: “Go west and give it a go – work remotely”, I am forever grateful to the person who offered that.

Oh, another piece of advice “be where your feet are” – it always grounds me.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I am reading “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe. Read it and be amazed that White Australia didn’t know this stuff and it wasn’t taught/still not taught in schools.

What is your favourite podcast?

On my travels I listen to podcasts – I love Brene Brown and find her truly inspiring, enjoy her Ted Talks around shame and vulnerability.

For a laugh I listen to “The Guilty Feminist” – a reminder that we try but don’t always get it right.

Chair’s report – November 2019

Chair’s report – November 2019

There is an old Chinese curse that goes, “may you live in exciting times,” however with the release of the Sylvan Report when I think of these words, I think of the great potential our sector has for growing in number of practitioners, influence and reach. Hopefully, the government will deliver on this report and we, as a sector, can overcome the tensions between growth and maintaining our high level of professional quality.

FCRC has been busy writing and submitting a tender in conjunction with Carers Victoria that, if successful, could help the sector to grow and continue its move into the health care space.

FCRC has also been working hard on the name change and James has been writing a history of the organisation to celebrate a historic 40 years. Both will have launches in the new year.

The work on stress and burnout continues with the engagement of a professional writer to produce a report and with FCRC and the Board developing strategies to maximise its impact and strategies to get agencies and funding providers involved in the solution. Unfortunately, these things take time to be done properly, so I thank members for their patience and ask that in the interim we FCs stand by each other and are mindful of the pressures on our colleagues.

The Board has been busy since the conference, having met twice already. At its first meeting the Board invited Lisa Garlick to fill the casual vacancy created by my election to the Chair’s position. Welcome Lisa.

I would also like to welcome, again, our new Board members David Balcombe and Tracey Grinter, and congratulate Carly Baker on being re-elected to the Board.

We also bid farewell to the retiring members of the Board, Mark Phillips (Treasurer for four years) and Heather Barclay (Board Director for two years), and thank them both for their significant contribution to our sector.

I would like to give a special farewell to Julie Barrow, outgoing Chair, who stepped up after the passing of Tony Naughton. I also congratulate Julie on being elected to the Board of Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) where she will be an asset to financial counsellors across the country. I look forward to hearing more about her good work at the national level.

The new Constitution means that all Board office bearers, apart from Chair, are appointed by the Board. The Board has met and decided to invite Cathy Clark to stay on as Secretary and David Balcombe to fill the positon of Treasurer to acknowledge the will of the members’ votes, and their distinct skills sets and experience. The new position of Deputy Chair, I am excited to announce, will be filled by Carly Baker. I am looking forward to leading the team into the future.

The Board is currently looking to expand its skill base by recruiting a second co-opted member. Watch this space.

Interview with Linda Burnett, knowmore legal service

Interview with Linda Burnett, knowmore legal service

Please tell us about your background.

Prior to deciding to go back to uni in 2017 to study to become a FC, I worked in a variety of accounting roles. My career started at Mobil Oil, where I worked for 13 years. Our family relocated overseas to both New Zealand and Singapore for a couple of years at a time and, on our return, I decided that I would like to move away from corporate work to work in small and medium sized businesses. Over the years, I have worked in a variety of businesses including a sound and post production facility, a real estate agency, a charity and also with Sammy J’s (and other comedians) producer and promoter.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

We moved from the suburbs to live in Docklands almost five years ago. This was a huge change for our family, as we moved from quite a large suburban home to a city lifestyle. At the time my sons were in the senior years of high school and were becoming more independent. I had become disillusioned working for the ‘rich’ man and with the frequent requests for ‘creative accounting’. At the same time, I was being faced with the awful number of homeless people living on the streets of Melbourne. I started thinking that there had to be some way I could use my skills to help these people – there had to be a more sustainable way to offer assistance than just to drop some money in their buckets as I walked past. I can remember hearing an interview on ABC radio with a financial counsellor. I had never heard of financial counselling before, but this sounded like the perfect job for me. I can’t remember the name of the FC being interviewed, but that interview changed my life.


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

My current role is with knowmore legal service, working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse who are applying for a National Redress payment. I have been involved in setting up a financial counselling service within this multidisciplinary service. knowmore offers clients access to a wrap-around service when applying for redress, including access to lawyers, social workers, Aboriginal engagement advisors and financial counsellors.

In this role, I work in three distinct areas with my clients:

  1. Assist them with hardship and debt issues – ideally before they receive a redress payment
  2. Discuss the implications of receiving a payment on their individual situation, particularly in relation to Centrelink payments and their housing situation
  3. Work with them around managing their lump sum, especially around protecting the money from elder and other economic abuse.

As this is a national role, my clients are spread all over the country. I have been on a steep learning curve, needing to learn about the applicable laws and hardship policies in the different states. I have also been involved in a lot of outreach interstate where I have been training people who are also working with clients applying for redress payments. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this role has been working at a high level with banks and other organisations to assist clients at a systemic level with protecting their payments. Finally, 26% of knowmore clients are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. I have been learning a lot about our First Nations peoples.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

Moving from what was quite a comfortable role as an accountant and going back to uni after raising my children has been quite extraordinary for me. I have made many new friends with similar values, have learnt such a lot and have the privilege of making a real difference in people’s lives. I have been stretched and challenged and have found an amazing new career path. My proudest achievement is that I actually made a decision to become a financial counsellor.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Professionalising the financial counselling sector is really challenging. Ensuring that FCs are appropriately skilled while still retaining their passion and creativity is really important. Offering a meaningful career path and longevity in the sector without burnout is imperative. FCs need support from their employers, FCRC, Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) and each other. There is also the challenge of moving into multidisciplinary organisations, where the FCs work with others in different disciplines to assist the clients. This model makes a lot of sense, and I am working in this environment now, but it is not without its challenges.


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

The most valuable advice I have learned is how to stop hearing the stories that I don’t need to. The first time that a client downloaded extensive information about her experience of family abuse I did not have the skills or knowledge to direct her conversation. I had been working with this lady on her $10,000 power bill – the fact that she had been abused by both her father and husband was completely unexpected. It affected me quite badly. I needed to attend some EAP sessions. And it was there that I received some of my most valuable training. I learnt how to stop the flow of information, make sure my client was safe and had appropriate support, and then direct the conversation to what I could help her with. This training stays with me today and I use it daily in my current role. I know that every client that I work with has been sexually abused as a child. I don’t need to know the details. I do need to work with them in the areas that I can help.


And now the easy questions…

Who is your favourite musician?

Anyone who knows me would know the answer to this question… I am a huge supporter of live Australian music and frequently go to see bands. My absolute favourite (and has been since I was in high school) is Mick Thomas. I listen to heaps of Aussie music, but always come back to Mick’s music. I’ve even got my name as a sound recorder on one of his CDs…


What is your favourite app?

My favourite app would have to be messenger. When travelling recently, I was easily able to contact my sons without the exorbitant costs associated with making overseas phone calls that we used to experience in the ‘olden days’. I love it that I can easily keep in contact with friends both in Australia and around the world. I am unlikely to send a long letter, but I have lots of conversations over messenger which allows me to keep in contact with friends that I don’t get to see very often.

FCRC submission to the Local Government Rating System Review

FCRC submission to the Local Government Rating System Review

FCRC recently made its submission to the review of council rating systems, on behalf of Victorian financial counsellors. We received considerable feedback from our members raising concerns about how councils respond to vulnerable people in the community experiencing hardship resulting from rate charges and rate arrears. These issues are essential to address if Victoria’s rating system is to be fair and equitable for everyone in the community.


We included the following recommendation in our submission:


Recommendation

The State Government, in consultation with peak bodies and consumer organisations develop and introduce mandated hardship and related processes for Councils to adopt and implement, including the following features: 

  • -Consistent, humane and best practice hardship response – incorporating principles of transparency and accessibility, flexibility, fairness and responsiveness to individual circumstances.
  • -Specific provisions for response to family violence circumstances and support for vulnerable people dealing with challenges such as mental health, family violence, low incomes, gambling, substance use, and language and cultural barriers.
  • -Standards for council use of debt collection companies, to ensure debt collectors used by councils comply with the law and all relevant codes and standards.
  • -Promotion of early intervention engagement processes including strategies to support people who are identified as at risk of falling into arrears, and appropriate referrals to financial counselling support.
  • -Provision in flexible responses for options, including debt moratoria, affordable payment plans that take account of individual circumstances, debt waivers, deferral of interest accrual or waiving of interest charges, flexible payment schedules, access to Centrepay as a payment method.

Click here to read the full submission