Financial counselling services risk losing funding in northern suburbs

Community Services Minister Tony Simpson
Community Services Minister Tony Simpson

FINANCIAL counselling service providers in the northern suburbs are at risk of losing funding in the new delivery model announced by the State Government last week.

The Government retreated from its decision in June to cease all funding for financial counselling services, announcing last week it would transfer responsibility to the Department of Local Government and Communities, which will provide $2 million for face-to-face counselling in the Perth metropolitan area over the next three years.

However, the funding is about half of what it was in the previous budget and at least one northern suburbs provider will no longer offer financial counselling after September 30.

The annual budget for regional and metropolitan services in 2014-15 was $8.6 million and has been reduced to $5.75 million for 2015-16.

Community Services Minister Tony Simpson said the department, in consultation with the financial counselling sector, had developed a new model for the delivery of services.

“The new model is aimed at being more efficient and effective as it has fewer touch-points between government and service providers, establishes collaborative partnerships and continues to offer face-to-face financial counselling,” he said.

“It is important to note this is a new model and separate and distinct to the way the service was delivered previously.”

Service providers have been encouraged to apply for funding through a tender process, the results of which are expected to be announced by the start of November.

Under the previous model, residents in the cities of Joondalup and Wanneroo could access services via The Spiers Centre in Heathridge, City of Joondalup, City of Wanneroo and The Salvation Army’s outreach services in Heathridge and Merriwa.

The Spiers Centre chief executive Helena Jakupovic said she expected the number of metropolitan providers to be reduced from 26 to about four.

“There will be a degradation of services, there will be fewer service providers, so we are impacting the client as they will now have a restricted choice,” she said.

Despite being disappointed in the funding, Mrs Jakupovic said it was “not really a surprise” and praised the work of the department.

“It’s a positive step forward and it’s better than the original decision,” she said. “Now we have an opportunity as a community sector to ask ‘how can we be more effective?’

“The writing is on the wall but it will take some time and effort to realise the value in the changes.”

The Spiers Centre will fund services itself after the current agreement ends on September 30 until announcement of the tender winners but the City of Joondalup has confirmed its services will not continue.

“While the City of Joondalup welcomes the State Government announcement there will be some funding for metropolitan financial counselling, the City does not believe it can offer a sustainable service with the reduced level of funding,” Mayor Troy Pickard said.

The Salvation Army also expressed concern over the level of funding available and said its services were currently suspended but would resume if it were successful in winning the tender.