27th January 2015 – Financial Counselling Australia has today released its 2013-14 Annual Report.
FCA’s Chair, Carmel Franklin, notes that just one issue dominated the year: funding. As we began the year, it was very uncertain as to whether the Government would continue the Commonwealth Financial Counselling Program. We were extremely relieved when the May 2014 budget continued funding, albeit with some minor reductions.
Achievements in 2013-14 include:
- Significant progress in the development of national standards for membership and accreditation of financial counselling associations
- Development of a draft policy on complaint handling and disciplinary processes
- Increasing numbers of financial counsellors accessing the password-protected website that includes tools and resources to assist them in their jobs
- Positive progress in the way in which various industries address the issue of unrecoverable debt: consumers with low incomes, no assets and whose situation is unlikely to change. FCA is working with the debt collection industry on a pilot that results in debt collection activity on these debts stopping. The banking industry also recognises this issue, and two of the major banks have put in place similar systems
- Incorporation of the Debt Repayment Service. The DRS assists consumers in financial difficulty who have the ability to pay some of their debts, but not all of them
- Launch of best practice guidelines to assist telecommunications customers in financial hardship. This project was facilitated by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, in conjunction with FCA and Communications Alliance
- Our biggest ever conference, with over 500 attendees.
An important highlight was the release in March 2014 by the Wyatt Foundation of a cost-benefit analysis of financial counselling. Completed by the Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre at Adelaide University, the research showed that every $1 invested provides a $5 return.
Financial counsellors are well-placed to identify marketplace issues affecting consumers in financial difficulty, and the report highlights three: the misuse of Centrepay (a government-run bill paying system) by rental companies; concerns about poor quality services from for-profit budgeting services; and ongoing concerns about predatory businesses targeting Indigenous consumers.
Our challenges and goals in the coming 12 months are exciting ones. We look forward to:
- The roll out of national registration numbers to the whole of the financial counselling sector. Creditors will be given access to this information, so they can verify they are dealing with a bona fide financial counsellor.
- Adding additional functionality to the toolkit website to allow financial counsellors to record their own professional development and supervision sessions on their own profiles.
- Building a new national website to assist consumers in financial difficulty. This website will support the national phone financial counselling service (1800 007 007) and replace our current consumer website: www.debtselfhelp.org.au
- Setting up a charitable trust that could accept voluntary industry donations to fund financial counselling.
Financial counsellors: community-based professionals providing information, support and advocacy for people in financial difficulty.
Anyone who is in financial difficulty can contact a free and independent financial counsellor on 1800 007 007 or visit www.debtselfhelp.org.au.
For comment please contact: Fiona Guthrie 0402 426 835