The Salvation Army’s Moneycare team of financial counsellors have been working around the clock since the COVID-19 pandemic began severely impacting the livelihoods of Australians. Lost and reduced incomes have put a strain on an already stressful situation – but there is help and guidance available to get through these tough times.
With uncertainty around how long restrictions will last, knowing what financial decisions to make can be a lifeline for those feeling stressed.
Moneycare’s Queensland team of financial counsellors have created a document of tips and resources for people seeking financial guidance – particularly as they come out of COVID-19 restrictions.
Jill McKinlay, financial counsellor for Caboolture Moneycare, has been involved in the creation of the document and says that along with growing concerns over money, it is natural to feel a significant increase in emotional stress. Preparing this resource is one way to help more Australians understand their options and make informed decisions.
“Often what happens is when people are in financial stress it can be overwhelming and no one knows where to get information or what they can do,” says Jill. “We’re trying to give people that sense of control and power back that they might feel they’ve lost.”
While Queensland has a large tourism industry that has been heavily impacted, Jill says COVID-19 is affecting everyone in some form.
“One of the things that was quite sad for me as a case worker was seeing a lot of [airline] ground staff come through fairly quickly and it was really quite abrupt. Retail is another one where we have a lot of casual workers coming through where their income was already unreliable.”
With many industries standing down staff, getting casual workers back into the workforce as businesses try to rebuild will be a challenge and Moneycare foresee their services remaining in high demand for some time to come.
Supporting Australians’ financial concerns
Right across the country, Moneycare financial counsellors are assisting community members experiencing many forms of financial stress, along with those who have either completely or partially lost their incomes due to the pandemic. People permitted to work in Australia on student visas have been a particularly vulnerable group that Moneycare is supporting, as they are ineligible for government payments and have a limited understanding of their rights in this country.
International students who have been sponsored by family overseas or who financially contribute to family members back home, are finding it particularly hard.
A Moneycare financial counsellor in Melbourne, for example, has been supporting a client with family in India who secured their home against a loan for the student to study in Australia. The family now face losing their family home as she is unable to make the loan repayments due to loss of income.
Casual and seasonal workers, business owners and people in the arts industry, have also been severely impacted.
With the second wave of COVID-19 grinding Melbourne to a halt and forcing the toughest restrictions yet, more and more Victorians are experiencing financial distress. Moneycare financial counsellors in the metro area and surrounds are seeing a sharp increase in requests for their services – over a single weekend 38 out of 40 Moneycare enquiries came from Victoria.
Moneycare team members are regularly writing to creditors, arranging hardship assistance and discussing the pros and cons of accessing superannuation with clients during this time.
“Our clients are trying to do the right thing and paying rent as a priority,” says Karen Lynch, Moneycare Manager for Victoria. “But will struggle to make ends meet if / when Jobseeker and Jobkeeper reduce or no longer exist.”
A way forward
While the situation is extremely stressful right now there is always hope. Financial counsellors have the knowledge and experience to provide a range of options for managing financial stress now – and to better prepare for the future.
“We’re there every step of the way,” says Jill. “We start right off drawing up a money plan with people, working through options and then sometimes, if need be, we’re supporting people to talk with their banks.”
Importantly, the Moneycare team want to ensure people are aware that they can reapply for further rest periods on their loan repayments if need be. With many of these rest periods finishing soon, the door for discussion and further negotiation with banks or real estate agencies is still open.
Jill stresses that now is the time for people to start talking openly about their financial challenges with close family and friends – to start having that “are you okay financially?” conversation.
“The big message,” says Jill, “is that everyone is impacted – so don’t be afraid to tell your story, because your story is valid. Life’s come in and thrown a huge curve ball and 2020 just hasn’t been a great year. So, it’s starting that refresh – that’s what financial counselling is – putting a line in the sand, having a look and seeing what we can do going forward.”
Moneycare financial counselling is free and confidential. It provides options, clarity, advocacy and support for people experiencing financial difficulty, debt, or a sudden change in circumstances. No one has to struggle through this alone, the help is there – and it works.
In the 2019-2020 financial year 99 per cent of Moneycare clients reported being satisfied with the service, 69 per cent reported positive improvements in their mental health and 65 per cent reported positive improvements in managing their debt.
“One of the big things to know is that generally there is always something you can do,” says Jill. “Even when your world’s been turned upside down. I can guarantee it. I see it every day. There’s always stuff that you can do.”
For further debt advice and referrals contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.
For helpful advice on how to manage your finances through the turmoil of COVID-19 and beyond, download Moneycare’s tips and resources.