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A ‘perfect storm’ is driving financial counsellors to burnout

Financial counsellors across Victoria say they’re stressed, overworked and fearful of making bad decisions on the job.

The findings are revealed within a comprehensive survey of counsellors undertaken by the sector’s representative body, Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic).

“The problem is community need far outstrips the number of financial counsellors,” said Dr Sandy Ross, the FSVic Executive Officer.

The report, Counting The Costs, identified four key drivers behind an increase in both the volume and complexity of cases managed by financial counsellors:

  1. An “explosion” in debt, low wages and stagnant incomes
  2. The absence of a viable welfare safety net
  3. The privatisation of essential services and utilities
  4. Economic hardship fuelled by family violence.

“Simply put, financial hardship issues are increasing and cases are getting more difficult to resolve,” writes lead researcher Polly Bennett.

The report warns the sector is at a tipping point, noting that “demand simply cannot be met with current and foreseeable resources” and that financial counsellors might get hurt grappling with unrealistic workloads and pressures.

Some are already feeling the strain.

“There simply isn’t enough hours in the day,” one financial counsellor told researchers anonymously.

“You find yourself barely treading water.”

“I literally fall asleep the moment I get home from work so I am contributing very little to my family,” said another.

“I drink a lot of alcohol at home now, when prior to working as a financial counsellor I never had alcohol in the home.”

Many counsellors work overtime in an attempt to work though outstanding cases, in some instances they’re driven by the fear of what will happen to people if their money matters aren’t resolved properly.

“The most critical clients may be at risk of suicide, homelessness or other harms,” the report warns. “Mistakes and delays can have truly dreadful consequences.”

Dr Ross describes this is a “significant psychological burden” on financial counsellors.

“They know full well the implications of not getting to all the people in hardship who seek assistance,” he said.

“So far, I haven’t made a major mistake butt he fear is there.”

Counting The Costs contains specific recommendations for the Victorian Government, WorkSafe Victoria, counselling agencies, funding bodies and even financial counsellors themselves—who are urged to push “responsibility for meeting demand” back onto agencies and funding bodies.

But the central thrust is a call for the development of new funding, employment and practice systems “that more effectively manage burnout risks in the sector”.