What is Financial Counselling?

Financial counselling is a free community service provided by financial counsellors working in non-profit organisations that assist consumers who are experiencing financial problems. A financial counsellor is a worker who acts without a conflict of interest, as a negotiator and an advocate on behalf of people who are at financial risk.

Financial counsellors, during the counselling process are able to educate and pass on skills to consumers as to their rights and responsibilities when using credit and other marketplace services and empower the consumer through this knowledge. Financial counselling is a combination of various traditional roles such as; social worker, solicitor and accountant. It is a unique type of service, merging a number of skills into a personalised “counselling” situation. The counsellor treats the concerns of the consumer in a holistic manner, viewing the social and health issues alongside the financial problems and assisting with appropriate referrals.
Financial counsellors have knowledge of para-legal issues however, they are not legally qualified to give advice on legal matters. Clients attend from all walks of life and are referred from a variety of sources such as; medical, legal centres, voluntary organisations, The Insolvency and Trustee Service of Australia (ITSA, which handles bankrupt estates), employers, rehabilitation services and lending institutions also refer clients to see financial counsellors.

Financial counsellors work closely with community organisations and have a highly developed referral network. Consumers in crisis who require food vouchers, assistance with electricity and water payments, personal counselling for family issues, legal advice and mental health services will be appropriately referred. Financial counselling goes further than the crisis intervention model, as the role of financial counselling is that of social justice, where the problems of consumers are perceived as social problems. The role of the financial counsellor is to affirm the rights and dignity of the individual. Financial counsellors do not view the individual’s problems in isolation but work towards changing attitudes, laws and institutions so that the individual consumer in society has more equal rights and powers within the market place. Financial counsellors in New South Wales are accredited with the Financial Counsellors’ Association of NSW Inc (FCAN). There are strict rules as to who may be a financial counsellor, primarily that financial counsellors hold no allegiance to the credit industry and act solely out of interest for the well-being of the consumer. Only financial counsellors who are not funded by, or employed by, credit providers are eligible for membership. Service provision must also be free of charge. Financial counsellors must have successfully completed an accredited training program and continue to attend a specified amount of training each year. Financial counsellors must also have regular supervision from an FCAN accredited supervisor and must be covered by a professional indemnity insurance policy.

As well as supporting and educating the client in various forms, a financial counsellor can provide the following for their clients:
• A full assessment of their financial situation, including regular income and expenditure, assets and liabilities.
• Information as to entitlements to government forms of assistance.
• Information and options for change and improvement.
• The ability to negotiate on behalf of the client with credit providers, government
agencies and other business providers.
• Information on credit laws, the debt recovery process, bankruptcy and other areas
of legislation such as superannuation, insurance and harassment to name a few.

Financial counselling is a worthwhile and valuable community service that is able to empower and assist clients to gain control of their financial situation.
Source: http://www.fcan.com.au/?page_id=20 Financial Counsellors’ Association of NSW Inc [August 2011]

As well as completing our financial counselling course, NSW financial counsellors must also complete a basic counselling course. This course is offered by FCAN, as is recommended to be completed before undertaking the financial counselling course. Other basic counselling course accepted by FCAN include; Lifeline or Salvo Careline Telephone Counselling Courses, or the Centre for Community Welfare Training (CCWT) Counselling 1 course.
Source: http://www.fcan.com.au/?page_id=24 [August 2011]