Wednesday 25 Jul 2018

EO's report - July 2018

By: Sandy Ross

I am pleased to announce that FCRC and Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) have signed a new funding agreement, to run until 30 June 2021.

The Agreement funds FCRC to run a training calendar, work in conjunction with the sector and Consumer Action Law Centre to deliver Continuing Professional Development (CPD), run a website and produce sector communications (our Gazette and this august publication I am writing in), and undertake policy and advocacy work. The Agreement is different in some ways from previous agreements, in that it is based more on setting up a strategic partnership based on shared goals to support and enhance the financial counselling sector, with less specification of details about how that is to occur. One element of this has been a shift away from the previous SPDP requirements in CAV’s agreements with FCRC and agencies that the sector has welcomed. There are still some CAV requirements for its funded staff to undertake certain CPD, but this is much reduced, and more flexible.

A companion agreement between CAV and Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) continues to fund CALC to produce technical and skills based CPD for financial counsellors. The FCRC agreement provides for the key funders and CALC to be convened in an oversight group to ensure appropriate stakeholder input into the training calendar process.

Stress and workload issues
In talking to financial counsellors around Victoria, it has become apparent that too many are labouring under extremely heavy case loads and are being placed in a position where they are at risk of burn out or worse (breakdown, PTSD). I have discussed actions that FCRC can take with the Board, and in coming months we will be surveying members to gather evidence about the extent of these problems and how to respond to them. We welcome your input on these issues; where you or a colleague you know has had stress related absenteeism, or has left their work due to work stress or related pressures, please tell us about it. We want to support agencies in their duty of care to staff and their management of risk by establishing some workload standards to help guide decision making.

One important aspect of these issues relates to the culture in the sector where managers and financial counsellors are driven to provide assistance, and keep stretching to try and meet demand. In reality, demand is more akin to a bottomless pit, and those who try to meet it risk falling into that pit and not coming out. The appropriate response to overwhelming demand is to accept it can never be met and put a premium on the health and wellbeing of those responding to it, so they can work productively and to their best safe capacity without being put at risk. The demand culture issue is a conversation I aim to have with financial counsellors and agency managers around Victoria in coming months. In this environment, the protective benefits for FCs of interaction with and support from peers becomes ever more important. The more pressure you are under, the more important it becomes to get along to regional network and working group meetings in order to obtain perspective and support.