A CHARITABLE trust has warned of a “serious shortfall” in financial counselling services to child sexual abuse survivors accessing the National Redress Scheme after concerns about their vulnerability to “predation and debt recovery”.
The Financial Counselling Foundation has made a $1 million grant to the government-funded knowmore legal service, established in 2013 to provide free legal advice to survivors, because of a lack of government funding for financial counselling through the Redress Scheme, despite a recommendation from the child abuse royal commission.
The $1 million grant will provide financial counsellors at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as up to 60,000 survivors apply for redress payments of up to $150,000 over the next decade, with average payments of $76,000. The counsellors will offer free financial counselling to survivors experiencing financial hardship or stress.
Knowmore executive director Warren Strange said the new service was vital because of long waiting lists of survivors seeking face to face counselling, and the percentage of existing financial counselling services run by faith-based organisations.
“This new service is really important because some financial counselling services are affiliated with faith-based institutions which raises concerns for survivors who may have experienced abuse in institutional settings,” Mr Strange said.
Knowmore also wanted to ensure survivors had good financial advice before receiving their redress payment “so that it doesn’t end up paying off Centrelink or housing debts”.
“We also know that victims and survivors of crime who receive a lump sum payment are vulnerable to predation and debt recovery,” Mr Strange said.
Knowmore referred survivors to financial counsellors at the National Debt Helpline but many had quite complex stories that would benefit from face to face counselling, he said.
Financial Counselling Foundation chairman and former Victorian State Ombudsman George Brouwer said the $1 million grant would help survivors and build the capacity of the community legal and support services sector.
“Although it is a step in the right direction, there is still a serious shortfall in the number of financial counsellors available to help survivors of child abuse,” Mr Brouwer said.
The grant would allow knowmore’s in-house financial counsellors to “become experts in the National Redress Scheme and in delivering trauma-informed care”, he said.
knowmore legal service is a national, free, independent and confidential community legal centre providing legal information, advice, representation and referrals, education and systemic advocacy for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. The financial counselling service will operate from early 2019.
The Financial Counselling Foundation is a charitable trust established to provide grants for financial counselling casework and help build the capacity of the sector.