A review of the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) has found the service fills an ongoing need in the rural sector although some improvements should be considered.
The National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) conducted the review and described the RFCS as a well-respected service that is delivered by devoted, hard-working rural financial counsellors, according to the Nationals Duty Senator for Richmond John Williams.
There are 14 service providers employing approximately 125 counsellors across the States and Territories.
Senator Williams said the review found that longer-term RFCS assistance which is focused on improving financial and business management skills, and encouraging the engagement of agribusiness services, is building clients' self-reliance and improving their ability to adjust.
He said amongst the more than 30 recommendations is one that suggests total funding should be reduced by approximately 20 percent to account for excess capacity in some service providers and efficiency gains associated with delivery of services, more robust client eligibility criteria and a renewed focus on short-term assistance on hardship
“The review recommends a single service provider should be used to service each State or Territory, and there should be pre-defined service areas to ensure Australia-wide coverage of services.
Consideration should also be given to making the counsellors more mobile and able to relocate short-term to areas of greatest demand.
Many RFCS clients have been receiving assistance for more than five years and this is considered to be undermining the efficiency of the service, so the review recommends all clients should be reviewed annually and those that are not progressing due to lack of engagement should be exited from the service.
Farm debt mediation is said to be taking up a significant amount of counsellors’ time and although this role should continue, the NRAC believes that institutional lenders and the industry generally could contribute to the cost of the service.
Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce is now asking for feedback from RFCS providers and State and Territory governments before the Federal government formally responds to the review”, Senator Williams said.
The review is available at agriculture.gov.au/agriculture-food/drought/nrac/review-rfcs.