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.
Priority to clients
During 2020, the ISP will prioritise integrated service provision to clients. We will increase the number of integrated legal/financial counselling services and continue to explore ways that financial counsellors and social security lawyers can effectively work together on Centrelink matters. As we established in 2019, integrated service provision by different professionals (or joined up or wrap-around service) can take many forms and occurs along a continuum. This may range from warm referrals to supported casework or even to active co-casework on a matter that is appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The following case study is an example of the type of integrated service undertaken in 2019 and the benefit derived for the client.
Jane was overpaid more than $5,000 of Parenting Payment. Jane sought assistance with appealing this debt. The reason for the overpayment was a failure by Centrelink to take into account Jane’s partner’s income when calculating her fortnightly payments. Centrelink’s position was that Jane had to report her partner’s income each fortnight, and that the reporting, usually done on a yearly basis as an estimate, was not sufficient. Jane maintained that she had done everything Centrelink required of her, and had complied with the instructions they had sent her.
Jane was referred to SSRV by her financial counsellor. The SSRV lawyer worked closely with Jane and her financial counsellor and represented Jane at the AAT Social Services and Child Support Division (Tier 1). Unfortunately the outcome was unfavourable for Jane. SSRV assisted with lodging an appeal to the AAT’s General Division (Tier 2). However, the appeal did not proceed to hearing as a Centrelink legal representative contacted SSRV with an offer to settle. The offer involved reducing the debt significantly, and meant Jane would be entitled to a refund of some of the recovered money. Jane instructed SSRV to accept this offer.
The connection with the financial counsellor helped to enhance SSRV’s interactions with Jane who lived in a regional area. The financial counsellor was able to provide the hands on support. The financial counsellor prepared a statement of financial circumstances which was crucial in showing Jane had financial hardship for the purposes of a special circumstances waiver.
Jane provided the following feedback about how it felt having a financial counsellor and SSRV working together to take her case – Really good. Having the support of both was helpful and stopped me making mistakes. It was good to have the financial counsellor specifically, as I could sit down with someone face to face, ask questions, and go through the paperwork together.
Working with Financial Counsellors
We are now well into Year 2 of the ISP. Patricia Bove (Financial Counsellor) and Karl Schaffarczyk (Community Lawyer) continue to work with FCVic staff to build on the achievements and learnings of 2019. The report into the implementation and evaluation of the ISP during year one will be launched in late May. Keep an eye out for invitations to the event.
ISP staff will continue to engage with the Victorian financial counselling sector and provide information, resources and training during the year. This will include involvement in an upcoming FCVic organised professional development session relating to migrants and refugees.
In 2020, the ISP will prioritise systemic advocacy work to address policy and procedural issues and concerns arising through common clients/issues/services and broader collaborative activities between the financial counselling sector and SSRV. The FCVic Centrelink Working Group is anticipated to play a central role in joint approaches to systemic advocacy. In 2019, the Raise the Rate campaign was a key focus for the working group, perhaps maintaining the new rate will be a focus in 2020.
Continuity of 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.
Get in touch
Please contact Karl (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Patricia (email@example.com) at SSRV to discuss the ISP and related services and activities. We are keen to hear from financial counsellors about how the COVID-19 crisis and government/other responses are impacting upon your clients and communities and their engagement with the social security system.