- The Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Anne Ruston has today released the independent review of financial counselling services conducted by Louise Sylvan AM: The Countervailing Power: Review of the coordination and funding for financial counselling
- The Government commissioned the review in response to comments made by Commissioner Hayne in the final report of the Financial Services Royal Commission about the need for predictable and stable funding for financial counselling and community legal services.
- The report is a huge vote of confidence in the financial counselling sector. Its recommendations, if implemented in the spirit intended, would transform the sector, and dramatically increase the number of people who could access free financial counselling.
- FCA is part of the consultation group set up by Minister Ruston to discuss implementation of the report. The group met yesterday for the first time in a very productive and constructive meeting.
We’ve been waiting since before the election, but finally the independent review of financial counselling conducted by Louise Sylvan AM has been released.
The report is everything we hoped for. It recommends industry levies to fund financial counselling, with the aim of doubling access in the next four years. This means at least an additional 200,000 people experiencing financial stress will get access to free and confidential services that can help them get back on track.
The report recommends that the banking industry provide an initial voluntary contribution of $20 million while mechanisms to implement a levy are put in place. We look forward to working with the banks but it is equally important that the utilities and telecommunications sector also contribute.
A critical recommendation is that funding is managed through an independent body. This body would put in place a strategic and coordinated approach to delivering financial counselling, unlocking efficiencies and using data to help in service improvement. The body would be a tangible demonstration of a community, government and business partnership.
All of this good work, however, depends on the State and Federal Governments continuing to play their part by maintaining funding (or for some states to increase their contributions to adequate levels). This is why the report recommends a more formal relationship, such as a National Partnership Agreement, between governments. Action is needed on this urgently.
Financial counsellors work closely with community-based consumer credit lawyers. These services are also chronically underfunded. Timely access to legal advice will only become more difficult with increased access to financial counsellors. Adequate funding for consumer credit lawyers remains unfinished business from the Royal Commission.
While there is a lot of work in front of us, the future is much, much brighter. We thank the Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Anne Ruston, for her support.
Media Contact:Fiona Guthrie, CEO, 0402 426 835