The Gambling Help Online forums recently hosted a special event Q&A with experienced financial counsellor Maria Turnbull. Our members asked a lot of great questions, and her responses were so helpful that we knew the readers of our blog would find them useful too.
Financial counselling is an extremely beneficial service for people experiencing financial difficulty, but a lot of people don’t actually know what a financial counsellor does. They don’t just provide information and support related to financial matters, they can actually take an active role and act as your advocate when dealing with banks, government agencies, and other financial services. Having a representative who understands the system can help you find the best solutions to deal with your problems.
Dealing with financial issues can be overwhelming. Financial counsellors have a wide understanding of Australian laws and policy in financial matters, so they can help you navigate this often confusing terrain. Some areas they can help you with include:
- debt enforcement
- consumer credit, and
- government concessions.
Reputable financial counsellors often work in a government-funded community agency. Their services are free, independent and confidential. Be wary of any counsellor, ‘financial planner’ or ‘debt counsellor’ who asks you to pay any fees or sign any agreements. There are many for-profit businesses, such as debt consolidation agencies, who claim to be able to solve your debt problems. While some may offer a beneficial service, there are many who will offer unnecessarily costly solutions that primarily benefit the business. Always check out these agencies and get advice from a free government-funded financial counsellor before you sign any agreements.
Gambling Help Online can refer you to an appropriate counsellor who will talk to you about your financial issues face-to-face or over the phone. They will help you understand which debts are priorities, develop a money plan, and identify your options. If necessary, they’ll also step in and advocate and negotiate with services on your behalf. Give us a call on 1800 858 858 or chat to a counsellor live to get a referral.
Read on to find out from Maria Turnbull what else a financial counsellor can do for you.
Your questions answered! Special event Q&A with a financial counsellor
Every person’s financial situation and experience are different, so these responses are some suggestions only and are not a substitute for financial options or financial counselling that are relevant to individuals’ situations.
I would love a description about how a financial counsellor supports people with gambling problems. What roles do they have?
A specialist financial counsellor supports people affected by gambling by providing advocacy, options, support and interaction with other support services and therapeutic counsellors including cross referral as needed.
Who would you recommend financial counselling to or who do you think it's most helpful for?
I recommend financial counselling for people (including but not limited to):
- People with debt they are having trouble with
- Concerned about the safety of their assets eg car or house
- Worried about their own or others’ finances or financial situation
- Those who wonder how they can help someone affected by gambling
We know that financial counsellors can alleviate financial stress, but are there any potential limits to the financial counselling service?
Financial Counsellors are not financial advisors or planners. They are advocates who act in the best interest of clients – not industry. It is a free and non-judgmental service. Financial Counsellors cannot tell anyone what to do. They provide options and support people with their chosen option. Of course this comes with limitations. If someone is not happy or not sure about the information they have received, they should ask for clarification or second opinion as needed.
Perhaps Maria could also describe to us how to know whether the financial counsellors you’ve accessed are as good as possible / as beneficial as possible or not?
Financial Counselling is about providing options and supporting the chosen option/s. Trust instincts – If it does not sound or feel right, ask questions; request a second opinion or seek a second opinion on your own. A good financial counsellor should suggest or offer a second opinion at the beginning. If something does not feel right, if you’re not satisfied or you don’t ‘click’ with your financial counsellor ask questions or seek another opinion. Something to remember though is that financial counselling is a limited resource and being unhappy with what you are hearing may mean that there are limited options available.
I was hoping you could clarify a partner of a gambler may be able to protect their assets.
One of the best and concise lists of some strategies that can help someone protect assets is called The Baker’s Dozen on page 24 of the book Slots and Shots.
Strategies that can help with asset protection and gambling may include:
- When property (real estate) is in joint names:
- Transfer title to a non-gambler’s name for “love and affection” to avoid stamp duty – requires legal assistance
- Consider altering “joint tenants” on property title to “tenants in common”- to limit access to property equity – requires legal assistance
- Alter bank accounts to be joint bank accounts with both to sign
- Limit access to primary bank account where main income is paid into:
- Online banking to have dual logins and passwords (especially for transfers)
- Do not link or list all bank accounts online
- Unlink bank accounts from telephone banking
- Ask bank about a passbook account – this slows down access to money and cannot be accessed after hours
- Consider having two bank account systems
- Consider not lending money to someone with gambling problems
- Place “No more credit” on credit file
- Consider “My credit alert” as a way of notification if the partner applies for credit
- Close credit card accounts and organise a repayment plan (do not just cut up cards – close accounts)
- Reduce credit limits on credit cards as they are paid off
- Use a debit card rather than a credit card
- Self-exclusion from gambling venues
- Seek Financial Counselling for assistance – sooner rather than later
- Seek assistance from specialist support services – for example Gambler’s Anonymous, Gambler’s Help.
Also, what options are available to someone who has spent their entire pay on gambling and needs to pay for food?
For prevention, a dual account system is a useful tool, where two accounts are set up:
- One account with no ATM card, not online, not easily accessible via phone or internet – for fixed expenses such as rent, utilities etc – both to sign if possible with a trusted person. Neither person can access the money and if the gambler wants/needs to access it, they need to have a conversation with the other person which could then lead to counsellor under certain circumstances.
- The second account is for non-fixed expenses and has an atm card attached and is not linked to the first account. Some recommended purchases from this account include food vouchers and petrol vouchers*. After the fixed expenses are paid out of the first account, a pre-determined amount can be organised with the bank to be direct credited to the second account.
The dual account system allows some financial independence, for bills to be paid and allows for some harm reduction. As the first account is not easily accessible if a client was to bust, the essential expenses, e.g. rent/mortgage can still be paid and this could limit the harm.
* buying food and or petrol vouchers enables a person to still be able to buy food and petrol if they were to bust and gamble.
For immediate help in accessing food, there a number of friendly, approachable support services available across the country. Some great service finders include the Secondbite Food Finder and Ask Izzy.
Given the recent Royal Commission into the Banks. How can the Banks assist with restrictions to accounts at the request of their customer?
Depending on the bank there has been some positive steps from banks to assist customers who may have indicated gambling is a concern to the bank.
The most significant is that some banks are offering personal assistance to people who express that gambling, particularly online gambling, is a problem for them. Upon request these banks will suspend all payments to online gambling accounts/companies as well as suspend access to cash withdrawals from a credit facility.
This also comes with a 7-day lag if a request is made by the customer to lift the suspension. i.e. it takes 7 days from the request to lift the suspension for it to take effect, it’s not immediate.
Do the banks have any moral obligations if they knowingly lend money to a chronic gambler?
Banks are under no obligation if they knowingly lend to a chronic gambler. However I believe there would be limitations. There are guidelines and findings by the Financial Ombudsman that provide more information about these issues.
Thanks so much for your wisdom, Maria!