Contingency funds released to rural financial counsellors

Contingency funds released to rural financial counsellors


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Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. Photo by Rachael Webb.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. Photo by Rachael Webb.

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Drought pressures prompt $3.7 million funding for rural financial assistance service

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Spurred by increasing drought pressures, the federal government has released $3.7 million to the Rural Financial Counselling Service.

The spending is drawn from contingency funds built into the RFCS annual budget, which totals $16m.

Each year 10 per cent is set aside in case of heightened demand, typically caused by natural events that make business tougher for farmers - like floods and drought .

RFCS counsellors' remit is to work with farmers to improve their financial literacy, develop business and contingency plans and access industry support measures.

Today's funding sets out about two year's worth of contingency funds for the RFCS, which is up for review in 2020.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the RFCS had received 1300 calls for assistance since August.

There are 12 RFCS regions across Australia, and the central agency will determine how to divvy up the funds among them.

RFCS Northern Region executive officer Gary Goldberg, who services a large drought-hit area of NSW between Tweed Heads, Gunnedah and Sydney, said the funding would have a positive impact for his clients.

"The amount of demand for our services is huge," Mr Goldberg.

"Our current officers are under strain due to the increased workload.

"I need more counsellors and you can't just pluck them out of the air, you need the right skills."

South Australia and Northern Territory RFCS chief executive Brett Smith said the contingency funds were welcome.

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"This funding as far as I'm concerned is critical. It puts certainty into our service delivery and get on with what we do to help those in financial difficulty, or those that may entertain one," Mr Smith said.

"We are seeing in SA and the Northern Territory the last two seasons have been very dry and a lot of people are very nervous."

RFCS Western Australia executive officer Chris Wheatcroft said the funding would benefit farmers, who are key to rural economies.

"RFCS WA has a continuing focus on the families and individuals involved and how they can achieve meaningful purpose as they plan and implement strategies in the difficult times for a profitable future," Mr Wheatcroft said.

Mr Littleoroud said Rural Financial Counsellors are "our angels on the ground" and encouraged people to seek their help to apply for a controversial issue for the government, the Farm Household Allowance.

The FHA application process has been heavily criticised as too onerous and confusing, with more than 70 questions.

While there are around 20,000 farmers potentially eligible for the FHA, just 2000 currently receive benefits.

Reacting to criticism, politicians have directed farmers to the RFCS when they apply for the FHA.

"One of many things they (RFCS counsellors) do is fill out Farm Household Allowance applications for farmers - for free," Mr Littleproud said today.

However, the RFCS has been inundated with calls for assistance with applications, which has diverted resources away from business assistance measures.

Financial assistance under the FHA is based on unemployment benefits, but in August additional lump-sum payments were added.

Couples in a household will receive two payments worth up to $12,000 and single households will receive up to $7,200, and the asset threshold was reduced from $2.6m to $5m.

The government has called an independent review of the system, but it is not due to report until the second half of this year.

The story Contingency funds released to rural financial counsellors first appeared on Farm Online.

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