As a community we are rallying to help the many thousands of people around the country affected by the bushfires. The financial counselling sector is ready to play its part as well.
The people affected by the bushfires are going to find themselves struggling with money and debt issues – which will also hit their local communities hard because of the flow-on effects to local businesses and tradespeople.
Financial counsellors know from long experience with natural disasters that financial difficulties play out over many months and sometimes years – be it delays in insurance claims being paid, getting back on track when mortgages/car repayments can’t be paid, or accessing no-interest loans to replace essential household goods, to name just a few examples.
After the initial clean-up, and when people have had time to gather their thoughts, they will need support and advice about how they can start rebuilding their lives.
This is where financial counselling can help. It is a free service and offered by not-for-profit organisations. Financial counsellors support and advocate for people in financial difficulty, and their services are especially in demand following natural disasters.
Unfortunately, there aren’t enough financial counsellors on the ground. For example, there are no permanent financial counsellors servicing much of the south coast of New South Wales and just two financial counsellors in East Gippsland. Both areas have borne much of the brunt of the unprecedented fires.
We are concerned that where people don’t have access to local financial counselling, they may make financial decisions they’ll later regret: signing up with for-profit companies that promise to sort out debt problems in return for very high fees, taking out high cost payday loans or making hasty decisions about insurance claims. These decisions can cause further harm to already traumatised communities.
Part of the urgent recovery response from governments must therefore include funding for additional financial counsellors in all of the affected areas. The sooner people get access to financial counselling, the sooner they can get on top of their financial situation so it doesn’t become unmanageable
On behalf of the State and Territory financial counselling associations, and financial counsellors everywhere, we thank everyone involved in fighting the fires and in the recovery efforts. But we know there is still a long hot summer ahead of us and much more to be done.
Media Contact: Fiona Guthrie, CEO, Financial Counselling Australia, 0402 426 835