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.
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 websites provided by the Financial Well-being and Capability Program administered by the NSW Department of Finance and Services (Fair Trading), the Community Legal Services Program of the State and Federal Attorney-General’s Departments, and the Commonwealth Financial Counselling Program administered by the Department of Social Services for our core services. We also acknowledge project and other funding from Legal Aid NSW. This year we also received funds from the former Fire Services Levy Monitor in Victoria which is being put towards our insurance advice, casework and policy activities. Finally, thank you to the Law & Justice Foundation NSW for a grant to build a new sample letter generator for our websites.
To help alleviate poverty, disadvantage, and financial exclusion by:
- Assisting consumers of financial services (including but not limited to consumer credit, banking, insurance and debtor advisory services) particularly disadvantaged consumers, to effectively assert their legal rights and protect their legitimate interests;
- Educating, counselling and advocating for members of the public, particularly people facing economic disadvantage and financial exclusion, in relation to managing their personal finances and asserting their rights in relation to income and access to affordable essential services;
- Achieving positive financial outcomes and, where appropriate, redress for individual clients of the Centre through, financial counselling, legal advice, legal representation and other complementary activities;
- Promoting better consumer understanding of financial system laws, regulation, policies and industry practices and informing public debate in relation to consumer protection policy; and
- Promoting reforms in law, regulation, government policy and industry practice that will help create a fairer and safer marketplace for consumers of financial services, particularly disadvantaged consumers, and promote financial inclusion.
The National Debt Helpline operated by the Financial Rights Legal Centre is the NSW answer point for accessing financial counselling through the the national 1800 007 007 number . The line is staffed by financial counsellors and solicitors. Callers are given information and advice to assist with resolving their financial difficulties and disputes with 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.
Financial Counselling casework is 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
- Pursuing insurance claims
- 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
We provide free telephone legal advice to NSW consumers on credit, debt and banking matters. We do not provide advice to businesses.
Legal advice is available by talking to one of our solicitors over the phone by calling 1800 007 007.
Interpreters are available by calling 131 450 (also for the hearing impaired).
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!
In some circumstances we may find that a caller 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. In such cases we may agree to look at a caller’s case in more detail.
In deciding whether to offer additional assistance, our solicitors will give priority to disadvantaged consumers.
Legal Advice Case Study
The following case study gives an example of what sort of legal advice Financial Rights Legal Centre can provide to consumer callers.
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.
What our solicitors can do
A solicitor at Financial Rights Legal Centre can give Maria free advice over the phone.
That advice may include:
- What her creditors can do to her if she does not pay them and does not go bankrupt
- What she can do if her creditors take her to court and whether she may have a valid defence to any court action
- 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.
What our solicitors cannot do
- Our solicitors generally will not contact Maria’s creditors on her behalf
- Our solicitors generally will not assist Maria to go bankrupt, or take any other step to alleviate her financial position
- Our solicitors generally will not file any court papers or represent her in any legal action except as set out below.
In some circumstances we may find that a caller raises an important legal issue about a financial service, like a lender or broker has not complied with the law, or has acted unfairly towards the consumer. In such cases we may agree to look at a caller’s case in more detail.
In deciding whether to offer additional assistance, our solicitors will give priority to disadvantaged consumers.
In some cases, clients may be eligible for written advice, discrete case assistance or representation from the Financial Rights Legal Centre. The assistance may be from a financial counsellor and/or a solicitor. The centre can only provide this type of assistance in very limited circumstances as the centre has limited resources. Read below for details.
Written advice and case assistance
Most people who contact Financial Rights Legal Centre for assistance are given legal advice over the telephone only. In some cases callers may be asked to send in copies of all relevant documents and the centre will provide written advice and (if applicable) draft relevant documents to assist the caller with their matter.
Once a solicitor has received a client’s documents they will proceed to research the matter and provide the client with written advice about his or her options.
In a small proportion of cases ongoing representation may be offered.
This may include:
- Negotiating with the other party (such as the bank) to try and resolve the matter;
- Drafting a complaint to an alternative dispute resolution scheme such as the Financial Ombudsman Service and representing the client in that complaint;
- Reporting relevant matters to ASIC or other regulatory body;
- Representing the client in a court or Tribunal.
Further assistance will only be offered where:
- The client has a legal and/or financial counselling problem in relation to credit, debt and/or insurance;
- Problems similar to the client’s problem are being, or are likely to be, experienced by other consumers;
- Assisting the client may lead to benefits for other consumers;
- The caller is low income
- The centre solicitors and financial counsellors have sufficient time available to undertake the matter.
Priority will be given to clients who are economically disadvantaged and/or have difficulty accessing legal redress because of poor English language skills or an illness or disability.
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 Financial Counsellor Hotline
- Co-operative legal assistance
- Workshops and Forums
Dedicated 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 and debt matters.
The Hotline operates between 09.30am and 4.30pm weekdays.
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.
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 and some regional NSW locations. 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. Travel to country areas will be considered where there are sufficient numbers of participants.
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