Members and volunteers are at the core of the work that Vinnies does, and last financial year these remarkable people assisted over 38,000 Western Australians. In addition to emergency relief support, Vinnies also has specialised support services and programs, including retail and distribution centre operations, a recovery-focussed mental health service, services to prevent or alleviate homelessness, programs for young people, financial counselling and refugee and migrant services.
Financial services are a growing need
‘The need for all our services is growing and no more so than for our four financial counselling services,’ Suzanne Long said.
Vinnies financial counsellors provide free, independent financial support and advocacy for people struggling financially. A considerable number of client referrals for financial assistance are made to the counsellors, the majority being from Vinnies volunteers and members. The counsellors work with their clients to achieve positive financial outcomes, helping them to work their way out of debt and preventing them from ending up in a situation of homelessness.
In 2017 over 6000 counselling sessions were provided by Vinnies and with its assistance over 1.4 million dollars’ worth of debt was waived. In addition, last year Vinnies was the only WA-based organisation to be recognised in the top 10 by the Financial Ombudsman Service of Australia. The service is partly funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Social Services.
‘Financial counselling is a trusted, free-of-charge service provided to people in financial difficulty. It provides an essential role in assisting people with their unmanageable debt, limited resources and increasing cost of living,’ Suzanne said.
‘The advocacy services include negotiating on behalf of the client to lower payments and interest rates with creditors and helping develop the client’s skills and knowledge, so they can make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources,’ Suzanne explained.
Causes are complex
Suzanne described that the need for financial counselling can arise from a diverse range of incidents and events in people’s lives, with individuals coming from all areas of the community.
Financial stress does not discriminate and clients include accountants, teachers, professionals, engineers, migrants, single parents, people with disabilities and the working poor, who have such little disposable income that it may take only a minor event to push them into serious fiscal stress. She explained that many of the clients are good at managing their income but are receiving insufficient remuneration due to the rising cost of living.
Early intervention is key
‘Some have an unexpected change in their lives, such as a redundancy or a medical crisis, while others have multifaceted behavioural and social concerns,’ Ms Long said. She noted that the consequences of a financial crisis often go beyond the budgetary factors and can lead to emotional and physical distress and relationship collapse. In these situations, Ms Long said, ‘financial counselling is a key early intervention that can help to prevent a crisis escalating’.
An integrated response
Ms Long explained that in some cases their financial counsellors are part of the integrated response to assist people affected by domestic violence.
Suzanne shared a recent client’s experience: this individual had suffered years of domestic and emotional abuse and was seeking assistance for severe depression and anxiety with another agency. Her support worker suggested she contact Vinnies for assistance through its financial counselling program. The financial counsellor assessed her situation and was able to help her secure parenting payments from Centrelink. The Financial Counsellor then negotiated with the bank on her behalf, successfully obtaining a full debt waiver due to severe financial hardship and domestic violence. She is now able to focus on getting back on her feet financially and is looking for part-time work. The client participated in a budgeting session and was assisted in creating a spending plan to help her with her finances going forward.
Suzanne highlighted how relief from financial pressure can help to support a family’s overall wellbeing and that early intervention may alleviate the potential future strain on limited community resources.
St Vincent de Paul Society Western Australia’s financial counselling services branches are in the Perth CBD, Canning Vale, Rockingham and Mandurah. All staff are experienced professionals with access to a comprehensive suite of resources. Vinnies encourages anyone in Western Australia to call on (08) 6323 7500 or firstname.lastname@example.org if they would like assistance.
Please note Vinnies Financial Counsellors do not pay bills nor do they provide loans, legal advice or tenancy advocacy.