The Financial Rights Legal Centre is a community legal centre specialising in financial services, particularly in the areas of consumer credit, banking, debt recovery and insurance. It is the only such Centre in NSW, and one of the only centres in Australia that fully integrates telephone assistance and financial counselling with legal advice and representation. The Financial Rights Legal Centre also operates the Insurance Law Service, a national specialist consumer insurance advice service, Mob Strong Debt Help, and the Credit & Debt Legal Advice Line.
As a community legal centre the Financial Rights Legal Centre is largely government funded and independently managed by a voluntary Management Committee. We maintain a particular focus on issues that affect vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers. We provide a well-integrated combination of information, advice, casework, and education to assist consumers in financial stress. We also conduct research and collect data from our extensive contact with consumers to campaign for changes to law and industry practice for the benefit of consumers. We employ both financial counsellors and solicitors to provide the best service for our clients.
Financial Rights Legal Centre acknowledges the financial support for our services and website provided by the Financial Counselling Services Program administered by the NSW Department of Finance and Services (Fair Trading), the funds received under the National Partnership Agreement from the State and Federal Attorney-General’s Departments, and the Community Legal Services Programs funds received directly from the Federal Attorney General’s Department for our core services.
We receive funding from the Financial Counselling Foundation and Financial Counselling Australia and we have been the beneficiary of a number of Community Benefit Funds from industry members as a result of enforcement activity undertaken by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. We also receive one-off residual remediation funds from financial services providers. These are compensation funds that were unable to be returned to individuals for losses arising from misconduct or compliance failures by those providers, and are donated to organisations providing services to benefit consumers.
Our values and strategic objectives
Respect & Integrity in all our dealings with clients, stakeholders and colleagues
Quality in all our services and activities
Independence from conflicts of interest
Empathy & Compassion for the circumstances in which people find themselves
Empowerment of people to take control of their financial situation, exercise their legal rights and expect fair treatment
Inclusion in access to our services, consultation in planning our services, and promoting access to a fair and equitable marketplace and improved financial wellbeing for all
Courage to be fearless advocates for people facing exclusion, exploitation or unfair conduct
Our financial counsellors provide information and advice to assist people resolve their financial difficulties and disputes with lenders, essential service providers and other financial services. We can also provide referrals to face-to-face financial counselling services, free dispute resolution schemes and many other community and government services. In some cases we encourage callers to stay in contact with us as they take each step in resolving their problem or dispute. In a very small number of cases callers may qualify for case work assistance. Our financial counsellors mostly provide this service through the National Debt Helpline (link to the NDH button info)
Maria owes $20,000 in personal debts, including two store cards, a credit card and a personal loan. She is currently on unpaid maternity leave and does not know when she will return to work, or who will look after the baby. She is very stressed and is thinking about bankruptcy as a solution. She doesn’t like the idea of going bankrupt because she lives in a remote suburb with little public transport and she doesn’t want to lose her car. She had also imagined that she would buy a house one day. The phone calls and letters demanding money, however, are becoming a constant source of distress.
A financial counsellor can provide Maria advice that could include:
- What her creditors can do to her if she does not pay them and does not go bankrupt
- How to request a hardship variation on one or more of her loans (that is a temporary break from repayments or a reduction in repayments and extension of time to pay the loan) and how to apply
- The advantages and disadvantages of bankruptcy and what will be involved – including whether she will lose her car and what effect it might have on her ability to borrow money in the future
- A referral to a face to face financial counsellor who can explore her options in more detail, negotiate with her creditors on her behalf and assist her with taking appropriate action.
Financial counsellors at financial rights also provide some clients with ongoing advocacy and support. This is called casework. Financial Counselling casework at Financial Rights is usually only available to clients who:
- Cannot access face-to-face financial counselling services in their local area;
- Are also receiving legal assistance from the Financial Rights Legal Centre; or
- Are dealing with problems that are relevant to one of our policy priorities.
Types of support that financial counselling casework assistance may include, depending on the circumstances of the client:
- Assessing the client’s financial situation
- Negotiating with creditors
- Developing a money plan
- Advising about rights, including eligibility for payments and other assistance
- Advising clients about their options in relation to debt collection, legal debt recovery action and bankruptcy
- Assisting clients to dispute the actions of a credit or financial service provider in an external dispute resolution scheme
- Assisting the client to make strategic decisions about managing their finances
In deciding whether to offer additional assistance, our financial counsellors will give priority to disadvantaged consumers.
We provide free telephone legal advice to NSW consumers on credit, debt, banking and insurance matters. We generally advise individuals only but we may be able to provide some advice and assistance to small businesses or farmers affected by bushfire or covid19, provided the issue is within one of our areas of expertise.
Legal advice is available by phone by calling us on 1800 844 949.
Interpreters are available by calling 131 450 (also for the hearing impaired), or we can organize one for you.
If you or your client are having difficulty contacting our advice service because of a disability or problems using an interpreter service, please let us know on our administration line (02) 9212 4216.
If you are simply having difficulty getting through to us, please be patient and persistent – we are a small service and we are often very busy!
Most callers get free legal advice only. In some circumstances if a caller is particularly vulnerable or raises an important legal issue about a loan or other banking service, such as that a lender or their agent has not complied with the law, or has acted unfairly towards the consumer, we may agree to look at a caller’s case in more detail. In some cases we may assist a caller to take some steps towards solving their legal problem, like speaking to their creditor, or writing a letter for the person to send, or lodging a dispute or complaint. Occasionally we will represent the client and run their case.
In deciding whether to offer additional assistance, our solicitors will give priority to disadvantaged consumers.
The following case study gives an example of what sort of legal advice Financial Rights Legal Centre can provide to consumer callers.
Michael has been out of work for over a year, and is struggling to pay his mortgage and other debts. His bank helped him with hardship arrangements twice but has refused to offer anything further. He is desperately looking for work and is still waiting to hear back from some recent interviews. The arrears are now around $5000 and the bank wants to repossess the home. He has just received a statement of claim from the court and needs to know what he can do
What our solicitors can do
A solicitor at Financial Rights Legal Centre can give Michael free advice over the phone.
That advice may include:
- How to lodge in the Australian Financial Complaints Authority to request a hardship variation on one or more of her loans
- What options he can ask for under hardship – whether to get back on track with repayments, or negotiate for time to sell himself to get the best price (or a combination)
- The advantages and disadvantages of these options
- A referral to a face to face financial counsellor who can explore his options in more detail, negotiate with his creditors on her behalf and assist him with taking appropriate action.
Services for Community Workers
As a specialist legal centre, the Financial Rights Legal Centre seeks to assist other community caseworkers to help their clients more effectively with issues related to credit, debt and insurance. We also encourage input from other caseworkers about financial services policy issues affecting our clients.
The following is a guide to the services and resources we offer and the procedures we use to pursue these goals.
- Dedicated Caseworker/Financial Counsellor Hotline
- Co-operative legal assistance
- Workshops and Forums
Dedicated Caseworker/Financial Counsellor Hotline
NSW Financial counsellors can contact the dedicated Financial Counsellor Hotline weekdays on 1800 650 084 to access advice, assistance and support from our experienced staff financial counsellors, or where necessary a solicitor, in relation to credit,debt & insurance matters.
The Hotline operates between 09.30am and 4.30pm weekdays. If we are unable to take your call please leave a message and one of our staff will contact you as soon as possible. Please do not give this number to members of the public.
Co-operative Legal Assistance
In some cases Financial Rights Legal Centre will accept the referral of a client and handle their case. Often it will be appropriate for a worker to remain involved. The extent of this involvement may vary depending on the circumstances.
Most commonly, a financial counsellor or community worker may assist a client to self-represent by drafting letters, explaining legal processes and other essential tasks with assistance from the Financial Rights Legal Centre. Our website www.financialrights.org.au also provides information and fact sheets, and a sample letter generator.
Workshop and forums
Financial Rights Legal Centre presents workshops and forums on a range of consumer issues to financial counsellors, community workers, legal aid and community lawyers and other relevant government employees.
These events are held in Sydney, some regional NSW locations and online. Topics include:
- National Consumer Credit Protection Act
- Dispute resolution
- Finance Brokers/credit assistants
- Debt Recovery through the Courts (Debtor’s Perspective)
- Family Breakdown and Debt
- Banking Issues (such as direct debits, complaints resolution and disputed credit cards transactions)
- Mortgage hardship
We Can Come to You
We may be able to tailor a workshop to the needs of your staff, network or clients on issues related to credit, debt and insurance. Contact us by phone: 02 9212 4216 and give the details of your organisation, the topic(s) you want addressed and the intended audience.
Granting of requests depends on staff availability and minimum numbers apply. Webinars or zoom seminars are the preferred option given the current public health situation.Travel to country areas will usually be considered where there are sufficient numbers of participants but not at present.
Privacy and confidentiality
The Financial Rights Legal Centre Inc. (Financial Rights – ‘we’ ‘us’ and ‘our’ in this policy) respects the privacy of its clients and other individuals (‘you’, ‘your’). This policy applies to the handling of personal information in the provision of advice, counselling and casework services, including the National Debt Helpline, the Credit and Debt Legal Advice line, the Insurance Law Service (ILS), the Caseworker Hotline and Mob Strong Debt Help.
Financial Rights has obligations, and you have rights, under Commonwealth and NSW privacy law. Our practice is designed around a highest common standard.
As a legal and financial counselling practice we also have legal and ethical obligations in relation to confidentiality. Solicitors and financial counsellors may not disclose any client information that has come to them in their professional capacity and in the legitimate course of their professional employment except with your consent or in very narrow circumstances defined by law. Because a client’s instructions are given to the legal practice and not just the individual solicitor or financial counsellor, the duty is binding on all staff and volunteers within the Centre.
Collection of personal information
We collect personal information both directly from you, by telephone, email, online or face to face, and from third parties in the course of providing advice or casework. With your informed consent we may collect sensitive information including about your financial affairs.
Use and Disclosure of personal information
We will generally only use personal information about you, or disclose it to third parties, for the purposes of providing you with advice, counselling or representation, or, if you agree, referring you to other organisations.
We will sometimes use anonymous case studies based on the experience of our clients to explain what our service does, or to convince the government or other relevant organisations that laws and/or industry practices need to change to improve consumer protection.
We are required to provide some information to funding agencies, whose use of it is governed by their own privacy policies, and these include procedures to ensure that small cohort reporting does not identify individuals. We do NOT provide funding agencies identifying information such as your name or address.
We may use information you have provided us to evaluate the effectiveness of our service. We may also seek your consent for us or a third party to contact you to participate in research or other evaluation activities. We will provide you with the same services whether or not you agree to participate in these activities.
We may also use or disclose personal information to third parties if required to do so by law; in emergencies where life, health or safety of any person is at risk.
All of the personal information we hold is hosted on servers located in Australia, but in the course of the provision of some internet services including web-analytics, some information may be held or processed outside Australia, most likely including the USA. Otherwise, we will not disclose personal information to overseas recipients other than at your express request.
We take all reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is accurate, complete, up to date and relevant, and generally ‘fit for purpose’. You can assist us by notifying us promptly of any changes or relevant new information.
We take all reasonable steps to ensure that personal information is protected and only disclosed to persons who have a need to know. You should however be aware that there are risks involved in transmitting personal information over the internet or by email. If you are concerned about this you may prefer to contact us on 1800 844 949 (Credit and Debt Legal Advice Line), 1300 663 464 (Insurance Law Service), or Mob Strong Debt Help on 1800 808 488.
The Centre will close a client’s file once the matter is completed and archive all closed files for specific periods of time as required by law. The Centre will take reasonable steps to destroy or de-personalise information once it is no longer needed, subject to other legislative/client relations management requirements.
Access and correction
You have the right under privacy law to see any personal Information that Financial Rights holds about you, and to seek correction if you believe it is wrong.
Enquiries or complaints
Any applications for access or correction, and privacy related enquiries or complaints should be directed to Financial Rights on:
(02) 9212 4216 or to firstname.lastname@example.org
You have the right to complain about alleged breaches of privacy to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) See www.oaic.gov.au or call 1300 363 992.
Reconciliation Action Plan 2018-19
Our vision for reconciliation is: for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to understand their financial rights and be able to enforce them. We aim to be a trusted adviser and advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in financial stress, within our areas of expertise.
With this in mind, Financial Rights is proud to announce that on 11 October, 2018 we formally launched our Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which is valid until October, 2019.
The purpose of a RAP is to provide an organisation with a structured approach to advancing reconciliation. RAPs recognize that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face significant structural disadvantage and discrimination in Australian society, and set out blueprints for organisations to commit to advancing reconciliation. Our RAP is our commitment we will take practical actions to develop respectful relationships and create meaningful opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
We have developed this RAP in order to:
- Ensure our service effectively engages with Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples in planning and decision-making processes;
- Ensure the services we offer to to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples are provided in the most effective ways, based on clear understandings of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander needs and cultural practices;
- Enhance access to, and outcomes from, our service for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples, and;
- Show our respect for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples – supporting the goals and values of reconciliation.
The Financial Rights Legal Centre’s RAP is available to view and/or download here: Reconciliation Action Plan 2018-19
National Debt Helpline
Impact of COVID-19 on our Services
We recognise this is an extremely distressing and difficult time, and we know that COVID-19 is already affecting people experiencing vulnerability.
As a result there is increasing demand for our services, and we are taking many measures to ensure continuity of services. However there may be factors outside our control that impact on our ability to answer our hotlines or respond to email enquiries – for instance, outages in phone or internet provision, or staff absences due to sickness or self-isolation. If this should occur, we will endeavour to get services running as soon as we can, however for urgent matters you should try seeking assistance from other services such as the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA). They have established a significant event support hotline for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic: 1800 337 444
Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are continually evolving for now, and we will continue to monitor and adapt our services in response, based on the latest Government health advice.
For the most up to date information on assistance and responses to the
- National Debt Helpline Covid-19 Financial Survival Guide
- ASIC moneysmart.gov.au COVID-19 – making financial decisions page
- Department of Social Services Coronavirus (COVID-19) information and support
- Tenants Union of NSW: Renting & Coronavirus: What you need to know
Please be assured that our priority remains to continue providing advice and assistance to the community, whilst doing all we can to protect the safety of our staff.
National Debt Helpline is a not-for-profit service that helps people tackle their debt problems. We’re not a lender and we don’t ‘sell’ anything or make money from you. Our professional financial counsellors offer a free, independent and confidential service.
We’re simply here to help you get back on track
Please note, the National Debt Helpline in NSW is answered by both Uniting Care, which provides telephone financial counselling, but does not have solicitors available, and Financial Rights Legal Centre. Our services are run separately, neither service has access to any information or advice given to or by the other service.
If you get through to Financial Rights and you would like to speak to Uniting, please tell the staff member who answers the phone and they will transfer you. Similarly Uniting can refer people back to Financial Rights if, for example, you have spoken to us before and we have records of your situation.
For legal advice or to contact Financial Rights – 1800 844 949
If you or your client are having difficulty contacting our advice service because of a disability or problems using an interpreter service, please let us know on our administration line (02) 9212 4216.
If you are simply having difficulty getting through to us, please be patient and persistent – we are a small service with limited resources and we are often very busy! You can leave a message if you wait long enough.
Need an Interpreter or have a hearing disability?
We can organize an interpreter for you
For the hearing or speech impaired, we recommend the National Relay Service which is a service provided by the Australian Communication Exchange (TTY) 133 677 (SRS) 1300 555 727 and you can use our administration line (02) 9212 4216.
What YOU should do BEFORE you call
- Read any relevant Fact sheets on our website.
- Please do NOT call on behalf of someone else. We will NOT be able to provide any advice, only general information.
- Please have any relevant documents at hand. Examples could include:
- Bank statements
- Bills and account statements
- Legal notices
- Letters received
- Please have a PEN and PAPER handy, as we will often give you phone numbers to call or websites to visit.
- Think about what you are hoping to achieve in your situation.
Legal Assistance (not just Legal Advice)
In some cases, clients may be eligible for Further Assistance from Financial Rights Legal Centre. Read Legal Assistance for details.
The National Debt Helpline assists by providing:
- Detailed advice and strategies for dealing with financial difficulties
- Detailed advice and strategies for negotiating with creditors
- Legal advice (through Financial Rights only)
- Information about court processes in relation to debt collection
- Referrals to face-to-face financial counselling and information on how to prepare for a financial counselling appointment
- Information and referrals to other services
- Reassurance and perspective about financial matters
- Representation and casework in limited circumstances
Information for community workers
Last updated: January 2021