The Western Victorian Rural Financial Counselling Service has reprioritised its staff resources to better assist south-west farmers hit by the St Patrick’s Day fires.
The service’s chief executive David Stafford said it now had nine counsellors ready to help farmers work their way through the crisis caused by the March 17 fires.
Mr Stafford said counsellors who normally worked with clients in the north of the service’s territory, which extends up to Horsham, had been retasked to help counsellors who worked in the service’s southern section.
He said the service was already busy helping farmers hit by the fires and expected demand to increase as more farmers realised the true impact of the blazes.
“We have some clients that have been impacted severely,” Mr Stafford said.
“We have some extreme cases that require a lot of work,” he said.
Apart from the service’s own nine counsellors, Mr Stafford said it would also be able to call upon counsellors in SA and from nearby Victorian rural financial counselling services.
He said counsellors could help farmers with short and long-term planning.
“We can help with what the future looks like, with things like cash flows and to plan for the next 6-12 months to three years away,” Mr Stafford said.
Issues which the service could help with included insurance needs and negotiating with farm needs suppliers for extra credit, he said.
Many fire-hit farmers who had lost pastures and fodder supplies were already having to deal with increased prices for replacement feed, Mr Stafford said.
“High prices for feed are coming through,” he said.
Counsellors could also help clients apply for the fire recovery grants of up to $10,000 and concessional interest rate loans of up to $200,000 that were recently announced by the federal government.
When farmers were under stress, it was sometimes difficult for them to navigate their way through to gaining such assistance, Mr Stafford said.
Other support the counsellors could help with included gaining the farm household allowance from Centrelink that helped farmers supplement their income after crises such as natural disasters.
The service provided a lot more than financial counselling and could also refer clients to experts such as accountants, financial planners and wellbeing professionals.
People can ring the service on 1300 735 578 or through its website at www.wswrcs.com.au