A report released today by FCA, “Problem Gambling Financial Counselling: Survey and Case Studies” shows the devastating impact of problem gambling on individuals and families. The report also highlights the important role of financial counselling in helping people get back on track financially and emotionally.
Gambling is ruining people’s lives – people are unable to pay bills and debts
The majority of clients affected by problem gambling were unable to pay their bills or debts. The next most common impact was relationship breakdown. Family violence, suicide ideation or suicide attempts, involvement in fraud or other crime were also reported.
The 68 case studies in the report give a human face to the data. There are common themes of loss, hopelessness and isolation. Financial counsellors can explain that everyone has options and there is a way out of financial ruin.
The report showed that gambling on the pokies was the most common form of problem gambling, but that online sports betting is a fast growing problem. FCA’s companion report into this industry, released in August 2015, “Duds, Mugs and the A-List: The Impact of Uncontrolled Sports Betting” tells this story.
Financial counselling works – majority improve their financial position and mental health
Both the survey and case studies show that financial counselling makes a positive difference for many clients. The majority of clients improved their financial position. Many clients also experience positive changes in physical and mental health.
Financial counselling, sometimes in partnership with therapeutic counselling (which addresses the nature of addiction), was also effective in stopping or reducing gambling for some clients. But a gambling addiction is pernicious and some clients continue to gamble. For this group, there is no quick fix for a serious addiction, and ongoing funding for extended assistance is required.
Funding for 50 specialist problem gambling financial counsellors needs to continue – agencies preparing to close their doors
The Federal Government provides funding for 50 specialist problem gambling financial counsellors around Australia. Funding for these positions finishes at 30th June.
Not knowing whether the funding will be continued in the Federal budget is creating enormous uncertainty for agencies and their staff. The quotes below show that at least one agency will start closing its service in early May, while others have put in place contingency plans for closure a few weeks later.
“We will begin our exit strategy in early May in order to be wound up by the end of June.”
“In the absence of certainty about funding, those positions that are fixed term cannot be considered in any forward planning (2016-17). It means that we have to plan for reduced financial counselling capacity …”
“I’ve been told that (agencies with) positions funded by DSS problem gambling grants … have been told to look for other work.”
“We are conscious of the funding ending and have scoped a plan to reduce staffing, which will be the reality should the funding end. We are holding off on the budget projections and enacting this plan, but will immediately have to do so should the funding not be renewed in the May budget. As usual with the never ending funding uncertainty it is creating lots of stress for all of us.”
“Our problem gambling financial counsellors have contracts up to the 30 June so they will be made redundant after this date if there is no further funding.”
“We may not close our service immediately but we are certainly drafting an exit plan for clients and staff given that funding ends 11 weeks from now and there has been no indication or communication that the funding for this program will be extended or continued.”
The financial counselling sector is constantly fighting to retain funding. Short-term funding contracts, which expire at 30th June, just a few weeks out from the normal Federal budget cycle, exacerbate funding problems. We hope that the Federal Government will make the sensible decision of continuing funding for these 50 positions. But we need to have a more strategic discussion with Governments about funding contracts and cycles. We need a business-like approach that recognises the need for funders to put in place orderly contractual processes.
The report is available at: https://www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au/Corporate/Publications
MEDIA CONTACT: Fiona Guthrie – 0402 426 835
Background – About Gambling Financial Counselling
Gambling financial counselling is difficult work. Clients often do not initially disclose all their debts and losses. There is often deep shame, or a well-developed pattern of hiding the extent of their gambling. Spouses may have walked out or are threatening to leave with the children. Debt collectors are chasing the family. Financial counsellors contact each creditor, and come up with a debt management plan. A key objective is often saving the house/housing and ‘saving the person’, where the client is suicidal. Once there is a financial plan, the person typically has headspace to address their underlying gambling addiction with a psychiatrist or therapeutic gambling counsellor.
In regular financial counselling, the worker helps the client to find extra money to assist with the person to pay their debts. However with gambling, the help measures are often turned up-side down – to ‘lock away’ the money/credit cards, so they are protected from being used for gambling. Sometimes spouses need help to safeguard the family home from being claimed by the gambling creditors or being used to secure additional loan funds by the gambler – a form of financial abuse.