With Australia heading into week seven of social distancing and more than one million out of work as a result of COVID-19*, now more than ever is the time to know where and how to access free financial counselling services.
Financial Counselling Australia’s chief executive Fiona Guthrie says that financial counsellors can provide help with navigating a number of financial hardship issues and that the sooner people get in contact, the sooner that economic stress can be reduced.
“Financial counsellors can advise people on how to access hardship arrangements with all their lenders, they can advise on whether accessing early release of superannuation is a good idea, they can advise on how to ensure people aren’t disconnected from their electricity,” Guthrie said.
How can I access free financial counselling in Australia?
If you have recently lost your job and you haven’t found yourself in this situation before, then you may not know where to look when it comes to financial counselling. Fortunately there are a number of free financial counselling services you can access in Australia.
Here’s a rundown of different websites and phone numbers that you can use to help you get through this tough time:
1. The National Debt Helpline 1800 007 077
The National Debt Helpline is a not-for-profit service that offers ‘free, independent and confidential’ help from professional financial counsellors. The helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9.30am till 4.30pm.
2. The Rural Financial Counselling Service 1300 771 741
If you’re a farmer or you run a small business in rural Australia, you can call the Rural Financial Counselling Service for ‘free, confidential planning support.’ The RFCS provides ‘assistance with government and industry programs and grants, emergency relief funding, creditor negotiation, debt mediation, family and business planning, and referrals to other professional services.’
3. Small Business Bushfire Financial Counselling Support Line: 1800 413 828
Although the ongoing global pandemic may have pushed the recent bushfire crisis to the back of some minds, for many Australians the effects of the catastrophic fires are still being felt.
For this exact reason, Financial Counselling Australia launched the Small Business Bushfire Financial Counselling Support Line and website in March.
- As Guthrie says, “Many small businesses impacted by the bushfires are now experiencing a double whammy as a result of COVID-19.”
- Small business financial counsellors can provide counselling to sole traders and individuals who operate small businesses on the following subject matters:
- Options for managing both business and personal debts
- What the implications might be for directors who have guaranteed a business loan or service/supply
- How to go about disputing business debts in external dispute resolution schemes
- How to go about negotiating repayment arrangements on tax debts, leases, utility bills
- What government services or grants might be available to access for small businesses.
The Small Business Bushfire Financial Counselling website also contains a number of guides on what to do if you can’t pay your utilities or rent, for example, as well as information on what government assistance is available.
4. Find a Financial Counsellor map
You can use the National Debt Helpline’s Find a Financial Counsellor map to find the contact details for financial counselling services in your local area. According to the website, there are around 850 financial counsellors across Australia.
How can financial counsellors help you?
One thing to note is that you should never have to pay for financial counselling. Financial counselling is a free service usually offered by government-run agencies, community organisations and community legal centres.
Although financial counsellors do not provide legal advice, they can listen and provide counselling on issues such as:
- If you’re struggling to pay bills or fines
- If you are being contacted frequently by debt collectors
- If your phone or power has been disconnected
- If you’ve had a car accident and you have no car insurance
- If you are struggling to deal with tax debts.
If you are searching for legal advice, you can call the National Association of Community Legal Centres on 02 9264 9595.
Have you been financially affected by COVID-19?
Read Mozo’s Everything you need to know about Coronavirus and your finances for more information on what relief packages are available, how to manage your finances during the global pandemic and ways to cope during social distancing.
*According to a survey conducted by the ABC.