As of the 4th January, 2020, Australia’s bushfire crisis has caused 24 fatalities and the destruction of over 2500 buildings, including over 1300 houses. The estimated $350M+ insurance bill coupled with other associated financial impacts of this catastrophic event are unprecedented and will require a coordinated response from an already under resourced national financial counselling sector. Natural disasters are both increasing in number and intensity, as climate change scientists have predicted over the past three decades.
In May 2019, Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) held a Natural Disaster Workshop during their annual conference in Melbourne. The workshop was the beginning of a national multi-disciplinary conversation on appropriate financial counselling responses to natural disaster situations. ICAN Financial Counsellor, Ray Kent spoke at the workshop about his learnings from Cyclone Yasi and the more recent 2019 Townsville floods.
“Our experience suggests that the sector has approximately 6-months to prepare an appropriate financial counselling response to the recent bushfire events,” said Mr Kent. “This is when the state emergency services start winding back and the financial counselling issues really start kicking in. Significant financial counselling case experience is critical in post natural disaster scenarios, as you are often supporting people experiencing a range of mental health issues on top of complex financial problems.”
Any natural disaster response requires systems to be put in place that support both the mental health of our service users and our financial counselling practitioners. “We are introducing the development of self-care plans as part of our professional supervision and continuous improvement processes in 2020,” said Mr Davis. “Vicarious trauma is a real threat for financial counsellors at the best of times, natural disaster situations increase this threat tenfold.”
Unified, financial counselling systems responses to natural disaster-affected regions, requires working collaboratively and implementing triage models to match the needs of service users with a highly skilled financial counselling workforce. Some of the ways we can achieve this is by increased financial counselling funding to affected areas, and by building our financial counselling workforce:
In the short-term, provide on-call financial counsellors sourced from a state or national association registered pool, that have relevant professional development and/or disaster financial counselling experience.
In the longer-term, deliver place-based Diploma of Financial Counselling training programs in order to: 1) increase the number of qualified financial counsellors and 2) develop localised financial counselling workforces equipped to meet the ongoing needs of disaster affected communities.
ICAN and ICAN Learn looks forward to sharing our experiential learnings and supporting the national financial counselling sector’s response to these catastrophic events.
In part-2 of Remote Financial Counsellor, ICAN Learn E-News caught up with Toni Cork, General Manager and Financial Counsellor at HK Training & Consultancy (HKTC), a registered training organisation, based in Darwin, NT. The team at HKTC do amazing work with the Nightcliff Renal Facility, an extremely important job given the alarming reality that 32.4% of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory are living with signs of kidney disease, the highest rate of any state or territory in Australia.
Given your experience working within remote Indigenous communities, what connection do you see between financial hardship and health?
Taking care of yourself is the last thing on the list for people in financial hardship. Once the essentials like rent and power are paid, there’s little left over to spend on eating healthy foods and exercising. Often fridges are old and don’t work properly, which causes food to spoil quickly, and not every household has a washing machine, which means clothing and bedding can be used for months before there’s an opportunity to wash them. Of course, this then increases the chances and spread of skin infections such as scabies, which often leads to strep infections, the number one cause of rheumatic heart disease. These circumstances, accompanied with lack of housing, limited health resources in language, and health staff who speak language, create a massive health dilemma and an increase in chronic diseases such as kidney disease.
Can you tell me about the cost and access to healthy food in the remote communities that you service?
There has been a marked decrease in the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables in remote communities over the last ten years. However it’s still anywhere from $1 to $5 more expensive per item than buying from a supermarket in Darwin. There’s also little or no access to dietary requirements such as milk alternatives or gluten-free pasta. And while healthy food has decreased in price other items such as bread, milk, cereals, cheese, spreads, tea and coffee are two to three times more expensive than purchasing them from a supermarket in Darwin. Therefore, once you’ve bought those items there’s often not a lot left for your fruits and vegetables.
How and why did HKTC start providing services at the Nightcliff Renal Facility?
It happened very organically. We had some clients who had to relocate from their Community to Darwin for dialysis treatment, and we assisted them with accessing insurance payments from the superannuation companies. Once we helped those clients other patients, renal social workers and Aboriginal Liaison Officers started asking us to help other people. At that time there was no organisation specifically servicing the renal unit, and some of the patients, while waiting for housing, were staying with family in the town camps, and we were the town camp service provider. So it just made sense to us to fill this gap.
How many patients do you estimate are at the Nightcliff Renal Facility?
â€œThere are 120. We predominately service patients from Nightcliff Renal Unit but also have a client who is a patient at Palmerston Renal Unit and currently one who is at the Royal Darwin Hospital Renal ward. We have helped about 15 people from the hospital ward.
What percentage of patients are Indigenous, and where are they from?
99% are Indigenous, and they come from all over the top end of the NT. We’re currently assisting people who are originally from Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island, Minjilang, Yirrkala, Jabiru, Lajamanu, Papunya, Minyeri, Barunga, Borroloola and Galiwinku.
What type of money management and financial counselling does HKTC provide at the renal facility?
We provide the whole range of services from helping people do a budget for the change of living arrangements; to accessing ID; through to assisting them to access IP & TPD insurance, debt waivers, advocacy with systemic issues, tax help and delivering information sessions on topics such as understanding their rights and responsibilities as consumers and on affordable lending products such as the NILS loan.
Are there some issues your team deals with at the renal facility more than others, and what are they?
Yes, we assist with a lot of superannuation claims and Telstra issues.
Do you see any health benefits for clients that you’ve assisted, either directly or indirectly, including benefits to mental health?
There are certainly immediate health benefits for people that we assist, both physically and mentally. How long these benefits last depends on whether there has been a permanent change to their situation, such as stable employment and housing and how much wrap-around support they’re getting from other services. I don’t believe we’ll ever see long-term sustainable change until we can change all aspects of a person’s life that contributes to them being in hardship and ill health to begin with. For this to happen we need to work and keep working collaboratively, from a strengths-based model and programs need to be adequately funded.
Do you think financial counselling services should become an integral part of health interventions, for example, within health services/hospitals like social work?
Absolutely. There is definitely a need for impartial and informed free help and advice for people accessing health services, especially when their health needs are going to be long term. I’ve also assisted people, via referrals from Centrelink, who are in hospital receiving treatment for cancer and recovering from an accident. I believe there’d be enough work for a financial counsellor and capability worker to work from the hospital at least one day a week, and this support would take some stress off the patients and their families and free up social workers who would otherwise (and currently are) assisting them.
Thank you Toni for providing us with some insight into the inspiring work HTKC and yourself are doing to address the socioeconomic issues of patients. You are improving health outcomes by addressing this critical social determinant of health. We look forward to following you on this journey.
Financial Counsellors’ Association of NSW Inc (FCAN)
In-depth overview by FCAN of what support and assistance is available to individuals and families in NSW affected by bushfires, including financial support, emergency payments and financial counselling assistance.
Helpful overview on making insurance claims, lodging matters with AFCA & AFCA’s role and dedicated support available for individual and small businesses and impacted by the ongoing 2019-20 Australian bushfires.
A current review on the Diploma of Financial Counselling [code CHC51115] has posed a risk to the retention of core units that are part of the Financial Counselling profession. In this article, we provide an overview of the importance of systems advocacy and community development and how these have always been foundational components of the financial counselling profession.
Financial counsellors have a substantial role to play in developing communities and advocating for them at both individual and systems levels. Our sector needs to support these core areas of skills and knowledge development for financial counsellors, in order to build a workforce adept at providing a voice for persons experiencing vulnerabilities, and mobilising communities. When systems advocacy is built into our casework, financial counsellors are able to identify and tackle the root causes of financial and consumer detriment more effectively.
‘I think of advocacy as the key activity of a financial counsellor – otherwise we’re just paper shufflers. Sometimes I think we should be renamed ‘financial advocates’. With the mentality of an advocate, we can tackle someone’s problem with the aim of solving it, not just managing it,’ said a financial counsellor in a recent ICAN interview.
This social justice approach to ‘cause’ advocacy has a long history in the Australian financial counselling movement and has historically included consumer campaigns that actively involved the community affected by the issues. Advocacy as community development can arise when practitioners understand the links between policy and practice, where ‘individual definitions of social problems’ are combined with “action at the policy level’. When combined, an integration of ‘casework, community development and social action’ can provide the foundation for more inclusive, community driven practice in financial counselling. This is also a key factor in Indigenous-led financial counselling:
‘The focus of Indigenous advocacy differs from traditional case work in that it is generally used not just for enacting change for individuals, but entire communities, and advocacy as a community development practice is an integral aspect to Indigenous financial counselling’ said Carmen Daniels, ICAN Co-founder.
Background to the Diploma’s review
The Diploma of financial counselling has a systematic review governed by legislation and processes as with all Community Services Vocational Education Training [VET] qualifications. The last review concluded in 2015, after a 12-month consultation process that ensured collaboration to strengthen the primary qualification required to become a financial counsellor. In 2016, the current Diploma was implemented and included a name change from the Diploma of Community Services (Financial Counselling) [CHC50218], to the Diploma of Financial Counselling [CHC51115].
The Diploma of Financial Counselling CHC51115 identified ‘Systems Advocacy’ as a core unit [previously elective] and maintained the ‘Develop and implement community programs’, unit. Another significant change was the positive integration of workplace learning requirements, linking the financial counselling industry with training providers. A new review of the Diploma commenced in late 2019 and is currently underway.
Education shapes professions. The systems advocacy and community development units shape financial counselling ways of working and add value to our clients through supporting state and national consumer advocacy campaigns. Without an understanding of these processes and approaches, we are taking advocacy and community development out of the hands of financial counsellors.
ICAN Learn, as a social enterprise registered training organisation, focuses on real education and strong links with industry. We strongly advocate for the retention of these core units as they reflect both our history as a sector and provide new and emerging financial counsellors with the knowledge to lead systemic advocacy and community development approaches.
New financial counselling roles are developing that include outreach and working in non-traditional environments. These roles require a keen eye for community development, education and systems advocacy opportunities. Financial counsellors that understand these processes well, are the building blocks of our future sector.
We urge financial counsellors to have a voice around the Diploma of financial counselling review: What subjects do you think should be in the Diploma of Financial Counselling? Do you think community development and systems advocacy are important to your work as a Financial Counsellor? If you have any input into the learning in the Workplace, Systems Advocacy and Community Development as part of our base qualification, you are welcome to contact ICAN Learn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we will pass on your feedback.
2019 was another big year for ICAN and our subsidiary registered training organisation ICAN Learn, in moving towards achieving our vision of Empowering Indigenous Consumers and developing the financial counselling and capability sectors. The Annual Report video is a review of our achievements throughout 2019.
Key highlights from the video and our year include:
ICAN’s community engagement and stakeholder partnerships to deliver Yarnin’ Money Days in Yarrabah, Mapoon, Palm Island and Thursday Island.
ICAN’s financial counselling service on Palm Island, as part of the services we deliver to support the Palm Island Class Action Settlement Scheme. Noteworthy is the precedent set for ICAN’s financial counselling service, when the Federal Court Judgement allowed for a payment for extended financial counselling services on Palm Island to assist people who were receiving payment under the Settlement Scheme.
ICAN’s top five case-types in 2019 included: Debt management, Access to No Interest Loans, Superannuation issues, Contract Disputes and a combination of the above…
In 2019, ICAN launched two reports:
ICAN’s 10-year Anniversary Report – an overview of ICAN’s work in the field(s) of assistance to alleviate consumer detriment, education to make informed consumer choices and consumer advocacy services to highlight and tackle consumer disadvantage experienced by Indigenous peoples.
The Yarnin’ Money Report 2019 – a detailed account of ICAN’s Indigenous financial capability program and methodology for strengths-based learning and community engagement in financial capability training.
ICAN Learn celebrated the graduating students of two Victorian programs, 90+ new scholarships and the development of new Trainers to teach the Diploma of Financial Counselling!
ICAN commenced development of its Yarnin’ Business, Yarnin’ Jobs program, by undertaking a Canadian study tour to learn about the intersection of financial empowerment programs and employment outcomes. We’re excited to roll out the program in 2020!
Thank you to our Readers, for being a part of the ICAN/ICAN Learn journey in 2019, and we look forward to another great year in 2020. See you in the new year!
In Part 1 of our ‘Remote Financial Counsellor’ series, we catch up with Alan Gray, Outreach Financial Counsellor for Broome Circle, located in the Kimberley, Western Australia.
Firstly, can you tell us about the region you work in as a Financial Counsellor?
“Our agency, Broome Circle, covers the West Kimberley and includes Broome township; Bidyadanga (the largest Aboriginal community in WA); and three other remote communities, Beagle Bay; Djarindjin; and One Arm Point. That’s an area nearly the size of Tasmania but spread out with only 16,000 people. 95% of my clients are Indigenous.”
Do you find the consumer issues that you see with one client are often systemic across the Kimberly?
“Yes, it seems that if some rip-off merchant has taken advantage of one family member, they’ve done it to many! And because communities in the Kimberley are often isolated from each other, the rip-off merchants can roll up to the next community without anyone suspecting their behaviour.”
What are the most pressing client issues that you come across?
“Telstra’s unaffordable phone plans; consumer leases for fridges and washing machines; payday and other high-interest loans; high bank fees; car loan debt; power disconnections; housing evictions; homelessness, and poverty that is driven by addiction. Online or digital scams are becoming more prevalent too.”
Why do you think consumer advocacy is so important in financial counselling; and do you get better results for your clients as a result?
“I think of advocacy as the key activity of a financial counsellor – otherwise we’re just paper shufflers. Sometimes I think we should be renamed ‘financial advocates’. With the mentality of an advocate, we can tackle someone’s problem with the aim of solving it, not just managing it. In practical terms, I would never get someone onto a debt repayment plan with a debt collector, or arrange a three-month Hardship pause on a repayment, if the clients’ long-term circumstances are not going to improve. That just makes us an unpaid agent of the debt collector. I would always try to get a debt waiver.”
Financial Counsellors can be a bit wary of the media. What gives you the confidence to engage with media for the benefit of your clients?
“I find it easy to engage with journalists because I’ve been one for more than 30 years. I know how they think, and what they want, so I suppose that helps.”
Are you selective about the media outlets that you engage with?
“Yes – I never bother with right-wing media whose audience and bosses are never going to listen to our side of the story anyway – that’s a waste of effort. I concentrate on ABC TV and radio, local indigenous radio, and newspapers.”
Client stories provide the “gold” to any consumer advocacy campaign – what are your feelings about getting clients directly involved?
“A story coming directly from the client has the best impact on viewers or listeners. But many clients feel too embarrassed or shy to talk to media, and I would never urge anyone to participate if they didn’t want to. We’re lucky in the West Kimberley – there seems to be a tradition among the Saltwater People from this region of not being shy of a microphone or camera!”
Thank you Alan for providing us with an understanding of the inspiring work that you are doing in the Kimberley, especially given the vast distances involved. We look forward to seeing you in the media again soon!
The 21st of October 2019 was a momentous date in four of Australia’s eastern states; with the commencement of the long awaited EnergyAustralia/ICAN Learn Diploma of Financial Counselling scholarship program. South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland all have newly trained teachers delivering the diploma of financial counselling under the watchful eye of ICAN Learn lead teacher, Robyn Shepherd-Murdoch. “It’s amazing to see so many new students interested in undertaking the Diploma course with experts becoming teachers,” said Ms Shepherd-Murdoch.
ICAN Learn welcomes the 25 new casual teachers and 70 new students to undertake the Diploma of Financial Counselling CHC51115, all of which would not have been possible without EnergyAustralia sponsorship. EnergyAustralia dipped their toes in the water by sponsoring the Diploma of financial counselling for 14 newly employed financial counsellors in the Central Goldfields, Central Highlands and Greater Shepparton regions, which completed in July this year, and are now in for the long haul!
Bernadette Pasco, ICAN Learn’s Executive Officer, highlighted the great opportunity the scholarship programs have provided in linking new people to financial counselling through industry focused training. “All applicants are of extremely high calibre” said Ms Pasco.“it’s really exciting to have so many highly educated and passionate people come into the financial counselling sector, making a difference for consumers in financial difficulty; and equally exciting to assist qualified financial counsellors explore a new chapter in their careers by becoming teachers.”
The months leading up to the delivery of the scholarship program have been incredibly intense. The small team have coordinated expressions of interest, enrolments, teacher training, course induction, access to learning portals, training material reviews, expectation management, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) processes, coupled with daily compliance requirements.
The EA initiative is a notable step in the move to increase the number of financial counsellors in Australia, a major recommendation of the DSS commissioned Sylvan report.
Karan Kumar is from Punjab in the northwest of India. He arrived in Australia in 2008 and lived in Melbourne for six years before moving to Alice Springs to get remote work experience and community services qualifications.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background and why you decided to undertake the Diploma of financial counselling?
“My background is in commerce, in which I have a Bachelor degree and I also have a Diploma in Business and Certificate IV in community services.”
After completing Certificate IV in community services, Karan joined Mission Australia in 2016. In his new role as a Housing Officer, Karan says he had to learn to deal with people struggling with debt.
“I started running a session with my clients in relation to money management; Very simple things such as the importance of paying rent, how to budget with a limited Centrelink Income; how to reduce debt through proper planning etc. I also used to refer my clients to financial counselling service providers which are very limited in Alice Springs.”
Karan started to think about studying financial counselling and searched the web for information on how to become a financial counsellor, with the view to building on the limited services available in Alice Springs.
You won a scholarship to undertake the Diploma of financial counselling – what made you come to ICAN Learn?
“I was unable to afford the fees of doing a diploma, so I started exploring scholarships or government grants, to just to try my luck. While exploring information I came to know about the ICAN Learn Multi-Cultural Scholarship Program.”
It was not possible for Karan to attend the face to face Multi-cultural program in Melbourne, so ICAN Learn and Karan collaborated on ways to achieve the Diploma requirements.
Can you talk a bit about the challenges in learning to become a financial counsellor?
“The main challenge I have faced was to get into placement because I am in a remote area and as I mention above there are not much service providers in town and most of the services are outreach, where one needs to travel 6-7 hour drives on dirt roads into communities for minimum of two weeks at a time. This is very challenging a the best of times, especially when you have family with kids.
I am glad I got the scholarship with ICAN Learn, there was opportunity to study online and still get 1:1 live support from the teacher. Without these two options I don’t think I would have been able to do this.”
You have undertaken some Learning in the Workplace as a part of your course, can you tell us a bit about whether that helped you learn more about how to do financial counselling.
“Learning in the workplace is very important part of this course. It provides an opportunity to understand the local needs and issues of the client group you are dealing with. Also it will provide insights and a picture of the field you are going to enter into. It is an opportunity to learn so many other things which are far beyond the theoretical knowledge. The tasks we perform during placement allowed us to apply our learning study in a real world environment, which will help to develop the interpersonal and problem solving skills by interacting with clients and other team members.”
You have recently had the opportunity to undertake some remote work with a financial counselling agency in Alice Springs. Tell us a little about what you learned when you were on that placement. What sort of casework did you get involved in?
“It was great experience to do some remote and correction centre work with Lutheran Community Care. Dealing with remote client group is very different and challenging in many ways such as Language barriers, cultural barriers and very limited resources.
I assisted clients to prepare for lodging their tax, was also involved in resolving some cases of unwanted sales made by telecommunication providers and insurance companies and worked on lost superannuation cases and other areas of casework.”
What do you see as important for financial counsellors to focus on when working with Indigenous and multicultural clients in more remote communities, are there additional practice considerations?
Karan says it’s very important to “..have a lot and lots of patience when interacting with Indigenous clients. Have a bit of cultural competency by doing a bit of research about the community before you go and follow laws of the community.”
Karan learned that you always need to send a request before going to the community which means finding out whether it is good and safe to go to the community and making sure there is no sorry business or other cultural business going on.
“Find the information about sacred and grief sites of the communities and do not enter into those sites. Send information about your visit to the community engagement officer and if there is a shrine by saying how many people are coming and what is the duration-and purpose of the stay. Please also make sure you do 100% arrangement of your food and accommodation before you commence a trip . If unsure of the accommodation, do not go.”
If there was one thing you could say about financial counselling sector development, what would it be?
Karan is insistent that proper funding is required which includes consideration for the travel needs of the organisation and the individual.
“We need more qualified financial counsellors in the NT and jobs to employ them!”
Thank you Karan for sharing your story with us and undertaking to become a financial counsellor. Alice Springs will benefit from your new knowledge and skills.
This week the Stop the Debt Trap Alliance released new data showing the scale of Australia’s payday lending crisis. The Debt Trap: How payday lending is costing Australians provides never before seen data demonstrating the extent of harm caused by the payday lending industry and the people who are most susceptible. Read the full report here.
Of particular interest to ICAN Learn Executive Officer, Bernadette Pasco, the review noted that during consultation, providers explained that while training is important to build and maintain a professional workforce, the requirement to complete the Diploma of Financial Counselling may be a barrier to increasing the pool of financial counsellors. For some provider’s this presents a workforce challenge as it can be hard to ensure all staff have completed this qualification.
One Commonwealth-funded financial counsellor stated, “A challenge going forward after December 2019 is the need for all financial counsellors to hold the Diploma in Financial Counselling. This is an expensive way forward for counsellors who are not funded as the cost is $6000.”
The review also noted that, additional challenges to gaining and maintaining qualifications exist for financial counsellors in rural and remote areas, as courses are difficult to access, a counsellor may require a locum, and attendance costs are high. Recruiting and retaining staff in regional areas is also difficult. In these area’s additional employment benefits must often be offered, to negate the challenging conditions.
“Through our own extensive sector consultation, we had identified these training issues and have developed a place-based training model to support regional and remote areas,” said Ms. Pasco. “The model has been successfully trialled in regional Victoria with a new program commencing in the Northern Territory. In both these instances, we were also able to provide scholarships through corporate partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and EnergyAustralia.”
These initiatives and partners were highlighted in the innovation section of the review, stating, ICAN Learn is a social enterprise Registered Training Organisation whose purpose is to provide quality industry-focused education to those wanting to become financial counsellors and capability workers across Australia. This organisation partners with CBA and EnergyAustralia who provide a range of scholarship programs for individuals to obtain the required education and training to become a financial counsellor. This includes focused opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those in multicultural communities.
Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston said the Government accepted the aims of the recommendations and would work with the sector and broader industry to consider the development of the Government response.
“The financial counselling sector provides face-to-face help for 125,000 people every year and demand is growing as Australians are faced with an increasingly complex suite of financial products,” Minister Ruston said. “The Morrison Government understands how important it is for the financial counselling sector to be well positioned to support Australians in need of financial advice and advocacy.”
Financial Counselling Australia CEO, Fiona Guthrie, said, “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.”