Our financial counsellors provide information and advice on credit and debt issues 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 via telephone and chat.
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.