Chapter 17 - Service providers
You think things
will get better, but somehow they never seem to.
17.1 People in crisis
can seek support from many community services and support groups. These
agencies range from small volunteer groups to national organisations including
St Vincent de Paul, The Smith Family, Salvation Army, Mission Australia,
Anglicare, UnitingCare and Lifeline. Local government also provides services
including childcare and emergency support. Commonwealth financial support is
delivered through Centrelink offices across the country.
Community service sector
17.2 There has been a
long history of provision of community services by non-government organisations
in Australia. Over time the face of the community service sector has changed.
The non-government community services sector is now very large and encompasses
TasCOSS noted that:
At a community level, we have witnessed a transition from
relatively informal systems of support based on local organisations/networks
(e.g., church-based charitable groups, service clubs, etc) to more formalised
structures that are dependent on grant funding from government sources.
17.3 Agencies are no
longer 'low-key places for a cup of tea and a friendly chat':
They are expected to be competent and professional organisations
and need to consider a whole raft of administrative and operational
responsibilities such as policies and procedures; forward planning and
budgeting; insurance; access and equity in services; volunteer recruitment,
training and support; occupational health and safety; performance reviews;
incorporation requirements; annual audits; and annual reports.
17.4 Services provide
assistance to homeless persons, the aged, youth, families, children, Indigenous
Australians, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, people with
mental illness, people with drug and alcohol problems, people with and families
shattered by problem gambling, and people who require personal counselling or
financial counselling. There is assistance through emergency relief such as
food vouchers and payment of utilities bills; there is research into poverty
and social issues; and there is the development and implementation of
innovative programs to reduce poverty or to moderate its effects.
17.5 It is difficult
to accurately identify the resources being utilised by community service
organisations to help low income and disadvantaged Australians. The Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare indicated that the total value of the welfare
services provided during 2000-01 was estimated at $43.2 billion, of which
$13.7 billion related to expenditure incurred. Non-government community
service organisations incurred expenditure of $6.9 billion and government
(Commonwealth, State and Territory and local) incurred $6.6 billion.
17.6 The ABS 1999-2000
survey on community services provided an overview of the whole sector. The
survey only included organisations with employees. In June 2000 there were
2,800 'for profit' organisations, 5,938 'not for profit' organisations and 548
government organisations. Expenditure for 1999-2000 was estimated at $12.6
17.7 An ACOSS survey in
2003 provided information on the organisations which assist low income and
disadvantaged Australians. The survey was based on responses from 26 per cent
of the primarily not for profit member organisations of the State and Territory
Councils of Social Service. These organisations assisted 2,382,799 people
through the provision of services including aged care, family support,
advocacy, crisis assistance and housing assistance. Clientele access services
by themselves or may be referred by Centrelink, the courts or by other welfare
rely on multiple sources for their funding including government sources, client
fees, donations, and contributions from business.
Laverton Community Centre and Neighbourhood House;
Emergency Financial & Material Aid [Commonwealth
Financial & Family Counselling [City of Hobsons
Access to Court Fund to assist Emergency Relief program [Sunshine
No Interest Loan Scheme [Community Funded – initial
Respite Child Care [State Human Services funded].
funding is provided through the Emergency Relief Program. Grants are made to a
range of community and charitable organisations to provide emergency assistance
to individuals and families in financial crisis. Assistance is provided in the
form of food vouchers, assistance with accommodation, payment of outstanding
accounts and sometimes cash. Consideration is being given to the future
direction of the Emergency Relief Program through a comprehensive consultation
process with emergency relief providers and other relevant stakeholders. The
Commonwealth will provide $28.9 million for the Emergency Relief Program in
2003-04 to some 900 agencies for distribution through more than 1400 emergency
relief outlets. The Program also provides funds for training and support to
Emergency Relief agencies.
17.10 FaCS released an
Emergency Relief discussion paper in March 2003 that focused on community
linkages and client outcomes, accountability and effectiveness and service
delivery. Throughout the discussion paper process, agencies expressed support
for the collection and aggregation of data about clients and their reasons for
seeking emergency relief and what subsequently happens to them. FaCS indicated
that because data collection is complex and agencies capacity to collect data
varies, there will be a phased in approach for data collection; during 2003-04
only minimal data will be collected.
17.11 The Commonwealth
also provides funds for community agencies to assist people with a range of
personal problems through a number of other programs, including the Australians
Working Together, the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, the
Supported Assistance Accommodation Program and the Family Relationships
also receive funding through State and Territory Government programs.
Provision of services
17.13 People seek
assistance from community service organisations for many reasons: they may need
immediate financial assistance to provide food and help with utilities bills;
they may need on-going assistance to find suitable accommodation or financial
counselling; they may be escaping domestic violence or they may need help in
dealing with government agencies. The range of reasons for people seeking
assistance is huge. As already noted, many agencies provide emergency relief;
however there has been a growth in the provision of other services which look
beyond just emergency relief to longer term management of complex problems, and
prevention and early intervention programs.
Increasing demand for services
17.14 There was
overwhelming evidence that community service agencies were under increasing
pressure to provide additional services with very limited resources. The impact
of the increased demand on services was dramatically illustrated in evidence
from Fairfield Community Aid:
came to this agency in 1995 as a volunteer and at that time we saw 12 to 15
clients a day. We now see at least 30 a day and it is more common to have 50
people come to the office. One day we saw 69 and it would have been 71 except
two agreed to come back the next day. The other 69 were all desperate for help
and sat and waited for hours on end for a small food voucher. ($20 to $30 for a
single and $50 to $60 for a family). This is suburban Sydney, NSW in
the 21st Century! Doesn't sound much like 'the Lucky Country' does
75, p.1 (Fairfield Community Aid).
17.15 The Committee
received other examples of increasing demand for services:
- Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service, WA, has seen a 240 per cent
increase in demand for services over the last four years as a result of people
seeking information and assistance with Centrelink matters.
- Western Australian relief agencies paid approximately $1.34
million to utility service providers to prevent disconnection or restriction of
supply to low-income and disadvantaged consumers in 2002-03.
- Anglicare Wollongong stated that its emergency relief service has
increased 20 per cent per year from 1999. Active case records have
increased to 3,900 clients. 90 per cent of those interviewed reported
Centrelink income as their main source of income. There has been an increase in
older people (over 65 years) and younger people (under 20 years) accessing the
- St Vincent de Paul, Raymond Terrace is providing $7,000 worth of
Bilo food vouchers per month.
- St Vincent de Paul, Newcastle Northern Regional Council
distributed over $83,432 in food alone in nine months.
- Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre stated that 'the services in Fairfield
area that provide emergency relief to those living in poverty are now
constantly over-stretched, and we are seeing very little from the government to
provide a way out of poverty'.
- St Vincent de Paul, Townsville has nine conferences with 88
members. There were 3,542 helpline calls in 2001-02. In 2002-03 it jumped to
6,332 calls. A second phone was put in response to the demand but it is still
difficult as volunteers are older people who assist at night-time when they
finish work, or in their afternoons.
- St Vincent de Paul, Central Illawarra has provided telephone
vouchers to the value of $14,500 for in home lines in the Central Illawarra
since the scheme commenced in 2003-03.
- Lismore and District Financial Counselling experienced a 30 per
cent increase in the number of clients it helps. The number of clients seen in
the first six months of 2003 would have been almost a years worth three years
- Lifeline Northern Rivers has seen a 130 per cent increase in the
last two years for requests for material assistance and over 5,000 crisis
telephone calls from people in the northern rivers region.
- Lifeline Darling Downs receives about $68,000 of combined
Commonwealth and State emergency relief funding per year with about $120,000
per year in aid distributed at the moment. 'It is like a revolving door. Often
we do not have enough to meet demand. In smaller areas, where their allocations
have run out, they will refer them back to larger centres like Toowoomba, particularly
during peak times of Easter, Christmas and school holidays'.
The assistance described above does not include the huge
amount of in-kind assistance that is provided such as clothing and furniture.
17.16 The ACOSS survey
of community services organisations shows the increase in demand for services
across the sector:
- the number of people seeking assistance from community welfare
agencies increased by 12 per cent from the 2000-01 to the 2001-02
- despite agencies helping 2.4 million people across Australia in
this period, another 180,000 people did not receive the assistance they sought
in 2002, representing a 19 per cent increase from the previous year;
- the greatest unmet need was in the housing area where 29 per cent
of the client base did not receive the services they sought; and
- many organisations (42 per cent) did not expect that they would
be able to meet an increase in demand and/or costs over the next twelve months.
indicated that there has been a large increase in the number of client groups
and people who had not previously sought assistance. These groups included the 'working
poor' and homeless persons/families due to the high cost of private rental. One
agency noted that of the 500 clients that they had seen up to 30 Apr il 2003, 19.8 per cent have been working residents not in receipt of government
17.18 Agencies have
also reported an increased demand for services in rural and regional areas:
the past 12 months or so we've seen an increasing number of people who have
never needed to use emergency relief before: two-parent families, lower income
working people, unemployed singles—particularly men—those who have been in
small business but have been unable to cope with the overheads associated with
employing workers, the public liability insurance, workers compensation and
administrative requirements around GST et cetera. There is a combination
of reasons for this increase in emergency relief clientele and the changing
nature of these groups. The cost of living has always been higher in rural
areas but it is increasing to a level that is unimaginable for many. This has
worsened since the introduction of GST. As well, Centrelink breaching and the
impacts that breaching often may have on a family budget means that both singles
and families may be left for extended periods of time without enough money to
Committee Hansard 28.7.03, p.1027 (WACOSS).
Impact on welfare services of
people being breached
17.19 Many witnesses
also indicated that the breaching of recipients of support payments had
increased the number of people coming to agencies seeking assistance. One
agency described the increase as an 'explosion' while another stated that it
was a massive issue and probably represents one of the single biggest impacts
on people seeking assistance.
Another witnesses stated 'we certainly are staggered...by the number of people
who come in clearly distressed, aggravated and in crisis as a consequence of
the change that has occurred with their Centrelink benefits; they have been breached,
their circumstances have changed or there has been a change in their regime of
payment and that has caused great grief and they do not have money for two
weeks or 10 days and things like that'.
17.20 People who are
breached have turned, or been directed by Centrelink, to community service
agencies for assistance in the form of food, clothing, money and accommodation.
The Salvation Army Southern Territory commented that 'ER services have had to
increasingly “step into the breach” created by periods of reduced or cancelled
unemployment benefits either to provide additional support or to attempt to
undo the rapidly escalating damage that can be precipitated by these penalties'.
The Salvation Army Ballarat stated that it ' steps into the gap daily when the
intended safety net of our social security system breaks down. Gaps occur
through breaching, waiting periods, delays in payments, overpayments,
administrative errors and misinformation. Penalties drive the poor deeper into
hardship and poverty.'
17.21 Agencies are
also dealing with very distressed people, particularly those that have been
breached: 'the problem of people being breached–coming to us straight from a
Centrelink office–is a real one. They are often very angry and frustrated at
what has occurred for them there. They come to us and if we cannot meet their
need, their frustration level immediately is that much higher and it is more
difficult for us to manage'.
Anglicare Illawarra explained:
We are now experiencing at least one serious incident–an incident
that we document–a week involving people who have become violent or aggressive.
Every time, their behaviour is linked to the withdrawal of benefits from
Centrelink and to Centrelink directing people.
Emerging and complex problems from
people seeking assistance
17.22 Not only is
there an increase in the number of people approaching agencies, but also the
number of people with long-term and/or complex issues. Often these are people who
present with multiple issues including mental health, drug and alcohol dependency
and disabilities that require long term commitment by agencies to stabilise or
resolve crises. People presenting with these issues need long term specialist
care; however, agencies report great difficulty in finding the right services,
particularly in the areas of mental health, supported accommodation and
addictions recovery programs.
17.23 Witnesses added
that there is a new set of emerging problems. For example, changes in housing
and rental markets have lead to the increased use of caravan parks for those
who cannot access permanent accommodation. Caravan parks present particular
problems for the tenants and are subject to redevelopment as have inner city
boarding houses. If this occurs there is a significant impact on families
living in this type of accommodation and a great demand on agencies to assist
former tenants to find alternative accommodation. One example received by the
Committee was of a caravan park where the owner could no longer find suitable insurance
cover so that all families in the park were evicted. A number of agencies
responded, along with State and local government, to find housing and white
goods and furniture for the families evicted. In this instance, a great deal of
resources were called upon to assist families.
generally is one area of major concern. The Committee received extensive
evidence of the lack of crisis accommodation and low cost accommodation that
agencies can access. When there is no accommodation available, even at low cost
motels, agencies can do nothing but turn people away. Lifeline Northern Rivers
for example, stated that it had turned away 474 adults plus 300 children from
its family service.
Many agencies indicated similar problems.
17.25 Agencies have
also found that there is a high demand for personal and relationship and
financial counselling yet this is very poorly funded and has long waiting
Cranbourne Information and Support Service, a small Victorian agency providing
financial counselling highlighted this problem:
The financial counsellor based at our organisation three days a
week is the only one in the area and is so overwhelmed by the complex cases
involving families losing their homes due to ever-increasing debt and
never-increasing income, and the demand for bankruptcies, that for the first
time a waiting list has been instituted (it is already almost four weeks long).
17.26 Agencies also
reported an increase in calls for assistance to get children back to school.
The Salvation Army Southern Territory has responded by establishing a range of
services including book swapping programs and other advice to assist parents to
minimise the costs 'but with such dramatic increases in need for our programs
the Salvation Army will find it increasingly difficult to respond without
supplementary changes to policy to assist poor families'.
17.27 Another emerging
area of assistance to children has been the provision of breakfast. In the Newcastle
region, St Vincent de Paul supported the Red Cross Breakfast Club and
contributed over $1,200 in six months to provide breakfast for children who
would otherwise go to school hungry. In one primary school of 400 pupils in the
Newcastle region, the Breakfast Club averages between 27 and 40 children attending
for breakfast each morning.
17.28 Agencies also
report calls for assistance in paying for funeral expenses.
Impact on welfare workers of
17.29 Many agencies indicated
that increasing calls for assistance in an environment of financial constraint
was putting a severe strain on their staff. Community service organisations
have responded to the demand for increased services by relying on staff to do
extra but unpaid work and turning to volunteers to help out. This is an extra
burden for both staff and volunteers. St Vincent de Paul Raymond Terraced
stated 'volunteers are finding there is insufficient time to properly assist
people with material assistance, many of who relish the opportunity to have a
one on one discussion with a willing listener'.
17.30 The situation in
some areas is more acute. The Salvation Army Darwin stated:
Welfare workers are being burnt out under the constant strain of
daily interaction with clients. These clients can sometimes be abusive, are
often under emotional pressure and there are no longer quick fix solutions for
them. This places a strain on my welfare workers and the strain they are under
reduces the quality of care the Salvation Army is wanting to provide to
clients. We are not able to always respond to our clients' needs in the best
possible way. As a result of that, we have now introduced regular supervision
for welfare workers but this has been an increased cost for the programs we are
17.31 A further
problem for some agencies is the reliance on an ageing population of
volunteers. There was evidence that smaller organizations are closing because
members are getting older and cannot continue to provide assistance.
17.32 Agencies have
responded by forming waiting lists, increasing referrals and closer targeting
of services. However, this is discouraging for both staff and clients, and can
be counter productive – people in need may not come back to access the services
they require or return with greater and more complex needs.
17.33 In some areas,
the problems have become so great that organisations have withdrawn from
providing emergency relief services. This adds to the pressures on those
agencies left providing assistance. For example, in the Campbelltown area three
of the six major charities involved in forms of direct assistance have either
pulled out completely or reduced their assistance in the last two years.
St Vincent de Paul, Lismore stated that there had been seven family services in
the diocese of Tweed Heads and Port Macquarie in the early 1990s. However,
owing to occupational health and safety issues, funding, and lack of support
and recognition from the government and community only one remains open.
17.34 While services
are trying to cover the increased demand with limited resources, there has also
been an increase in costs for community service organisations. ACOSS noted that
a third of the agencies who responded to its survey indicated that they had
experienced difficulties in obtaining insurance in 2001-02. The cost of
insurance was the major difficulty, while some agencies had been refused cover.
Three quarters of all respondents indicated that they are paying more for
insurance in 2002-03 than in 2001-02 with an average increase per agency of
services provided the Committee with evidence on the extent of unmet demand.
For example, the Salvation Army Ballarat indicated that it was turning away 100
clients a month on average as they do not have the workers or funding for
Southlakes Refuge in the Lake Macquarie area of NSW provides accommodation for
15 people and is staffed by 61 trained volunteers. The Refuge is funded by
an Op-Shop also staffed by volunteers. During 2001-02 the Refuge accommodated
129 people but turned away 519 people.
17.36 The increase in
unmet demand placed welfare agencies in a difficult position. TasCOSS stated:
Regular surveys of unmet need levels, and the resulting
pressures on community service organisation (e.g., ACOSS Australians Living on
the Edge Survey findings) demonstrate that the non-government sector is unable
to address the level and complexity of need arising in our communities. In a
state such as Tasmania, with labour market and demographic characteristics that
drive up poverty levels, this trend is even more evident. Non-government
organisations are doing more with less, finding efficiencies wherever possible,
but still failing to confront the needs they identify in their respective
17.37 Many agencies
argued that the funds available from the Commonwealth are plainly inadequate to
meet demand and government had failed to recognise this:
We receive just under $11,000 from FaCS to fund our emergency
relief program, and yet the demand is such that we are spending nearly $3000
each month. Already in January and February this year, the demand has increased
to such an alarming rate that we are restricting our criteria for assistance
and still turning people away in order to keep to our emergency relief budget.
I suspect this trend will increase, and we will be faced with an emergency
relief crisis in our area within a year if we are not provided with increased
17.38 The Salvation
Army Darwin also noted that it had not received additional funds for a number
of years even though the population of Darwin had increased: 'the amount of
money we have simply gets smaller as the population increases'.
Southern Peninsula Community Support and Information Centre stated that while
Emergency Relief is crucial for the Centre to continue to assist those living
in poverty, if the Centre did not receive financial assistance from other
sources, such as donations, it would not assist all in need.
Northern Rivers commented:
I feel that more needs to be done to recognise community
organisations like ours, which do not attract public funding, but are meeting
an increasing and unrecognised demand for welfare recipients. This is brought
about because I believe governments at all levels want to save a few dollars,
bury their heads in the sand and absolve themselves of any community
responsibility to assist these Australian citizens.
17.40 That the
Commonwealth increase the current level of emergency relief funds allocated to
17.41 The plight of
small community organisations in rural and regional Australia was also
discussed in evidence. The continuing drought and increasing financial problems
in rural areas, has resulted in people withdrawing from their positions in
community organisations. Lifeline North Queensland noted that there are fewer
people to actually run and meet all the legislative and financial requirements
of a committee of management, 'so you are putting further and further drain on
fewer and fewer resources, which means that there are more communities which
are more stressed and therefore looking outside'. As a result communities
cannot draw in extra services as government requires people who are able to
meet statutory requirements:
They are looking for strong, active, participatory communities
that can put up those sorts of committees, and that is really tough when
everybody is exhausted and really concerned about whether they can feed their
family tonight when they have been the ones who have been out there and they
have given $1,000 last year to the old people's home for a new bed, or
whatever. Because we are relying more and more on the community to buy
palliative beds in smaller communities, we are relying on the community to
raise money for a cancer appeal or to help a family whose house has burnt down,
people are being really stretched, and that affects their own self-esteem and
their own capacity to continue. So some people will not go off the farm. I have
letters from people right up and down the eastern seaboard saying, 'I no longer
participate in anything because I am too ashamed to do so,' and that is really
Beyond emergency support – longer
acknowledged that while there is a growing demand for emergency support, there
is a need to introduce longer term support for clients and a more coordinated
approach to the increasingly complex cases that they are dealing with. Unless
this occurs, people will not be able to move out of poverty and their
disadvantaged situations and 'break the cycle of handout mentality we have'.
The Salvation Army Darwin stated 'it is unfortunate that today many people
consider the welfare handout as part of their budget and rely on it. That is
something we have to try and break and encourage them to look for alternative
17.43 The Smith Family
also commented that it saw itself as:
...about the prevention of poverty in Australia, in both the
short-term and long-term way. To work towards that end we have a framework, at
the heart of which is a strategic focus on education and lifelong learning...We
come out of an over 81-year history probably acknowledged by most people in the
community as a welfare agency, but we are changing ourselves, on the basis of
our internal research capacity and our work with other researchers, to become
an organisation dedicated in an evidence based way to preventing poverty and to
building the capacity of young children and families in disadvantage throughout
17.44 The community
sector suggested a number of pathways to achieve better long-term outcomes. One
is the introduction of case management. Case management would offer greater
support to clients and assist them in accessing the services they need. However,
agencies indicated that lack of funds and the pressure from emergency relief
cases impacted adversely on their ability to provide effective case management.
Anglicare Illawarra stated:
We also believe that there need to be funded resources, again
delivered through government to organisations like ours, Barnados and community
centres that are involved at the coalface of poverty, to undertake more
involved case management with people working in the area. It is not good enough
for the people with whom we are working for us to be able to offer them only a
half-hour, 45-minute or one-hour appointment to try to resolve issues and
Quite often we will see people once a week for a year to try to
work through stuff. Again, that puts a strain on our resources, but it is work
that just needs to be done. If we had additional resources to implement case
management approaches so that we could really interface effectively with mental
health team and drug and alcohol workers in the city, and look at interfacing
with regard to accommodation and how we might do that differently in this city,
then we might actually be able to start addressing some of these concerns
structurally much more effectively than we can currently.
Early intervention and prevention
17.45 Another way of
providing long-term support is through early intervention and prevention
programs. Many organisations both on a national and local level have instituted
programs aimed at lifting people out of poverty. Programs are aimed at all age
groups: from occasional care for children and parenting programs, to school
assistance programs through the supply of books and computers, to adult
literacy and training programs. Some examples provided to the Committee
The Smith Family provides substantial funding for its Learning
for Life strategy and program. The program provides financial assistance,
educational support for students and their families and mentoring. It is
established in compulsory and tertiary education and is being extended to
preschool and early childhood.
- Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY)
established by the Brotherhood of St Laurence supports parent to take an active
role in the education of their pre-school age children in the home. The
Brotherhood also runs a homework centre at Fitzroy which provides academic and
personal support for secondary school students.
- Pathways to Prevention Project is a partnership initiative for Mission
Australia and a range of educational, government and business organisations.
It targets preschool age children, their families, schools and communities with
early intervention programs designed to help children make a successful
transition from home to school.
- The Ark Olive Branch Café run by the Salvation Army in Newcastle
is a fully functioning café restaurant providing nationally accredited training
in hospitality operations targeting disadvantaged youth. The hands on training,
under the close guidance and supervision of industry qualified trainers, equips
the trainees with real day to day knowledge and experience in an inner city
café restaurant. Assistance with placement is provided upon completion of
training and a high employment rate reflects the success of the program.
- The Samaritans Foundation in Newcastle, in response to high
levels of unemployment, has established a gardening and home maintenance
business run by tenants in a housing estate and a job assistance centre and
Internet café in Muswellbrook.
- Laverton Community Centre and Neighbourhood House operate a
Community Children's Centre which houses all their child care programs as well
as a Post Natal Depression Group, Out-posted Family Counsellors, In Home
Support Workers, new mothers groups and other services that have children or their
families as a focus. All services are free or fit under the not for profit
- Southern Peninsula Community Support and Information Centre in Victoria
has initiated a Budget Support Program. The Program was set up as normal budget
counselling methods had not worked with clients. Clients who enter the program
are given support to bring their budget into balance, training in how to manage
their money and deal with financial issues and support with other issues
arising from poverty. The Centre stated 'this program is being very successful
and there are financial benefits arising from savings in present and future
emergency relief funds. It would be good for such an innovative program to have
further funding and wider application.'
- St Vincent de Paul Society, Lismore, manages a number of homes in
conjunction with the NSW Housing Department. The homes are rented to
disadvantaged families at a low rent for approximately 12 months. The Society
assists families with budgeting and other skills development. This has proved
successful and 'families have been able to set themselves up to take care of
their own destiny at the end of that period because the rent is so low and the
help is ongoing.' Families have been able to move into other rental
accommodation and one family saved enough to buy their own small home.
Cooperation and increased community
17.46 Agencies also
pointed to the need to increase cooperation between organisations to provide a
uniform approach. Cooperation strengthens community networks and provides a
greater spread and balance of services.
Other recommendations include—and this is through organisations
that are working in the delivery of emergency relief services, and there is a
number of them in this city—a uniform approach to policies, service standards
and assessment and training by agencies involved in the provision of emergency
relief; and training to include specialist approaches to working with mental
health and drug and alcohol issues. It is really critical that, if that work is
to be ongoing and involve different agencies, we are provided with the
resources to skill our workers to do their job effectively. For us that is not
currently provided for through the emergency relief funding as administered by
Family and Community Services.
17.47 However, there
were concerns about the change in the community welfare sector. TasCOSS
commented that dependence on government funding has seen a loss of valued
structures in many smaller centres and a greater reliance on services that may
in some instances only be accessed from large, more distant centres.
This view was echoed in other comments that access to State and/or Commonwealth
funding for resources is not easily achieved by local community groups and that
'statewide and regional projects appear to be preferred and short term, self
sustaining projects are preferred to ongoing salary commitment'.
17.48 Lifeline Brisbane
also commented that competitive funding is a major problem. As Lifeline is
mostly self-funded, it was argued that it could be more cooperative and
collaborative. However, this may not be the case with other agencies which
depend solely on government income:
They might get the funding, and you might miss out. It is just
not going to happen, is it? Up to a point it can work well. With a lot of
people putting work in on the ground we can all cooperate up to a point, but
not to the point where you might miss out on the funding you need. I think that
is a major problem with competitive funding models of all sorts.
The very real growth that has occurred in support systems in
recent years has been in services provided by non-government organisations.
Much of this apparent growth, however, has in fact been an 'outsourcing' of
services that had once been 'mainstream' government-provided services (e.g.,
disability services, job-placement services), while others have reflected
changes to demographic patterns (e.g., ageing) without addressing the complex
needs of low-income households. Specifically, there has been no real growth in
services for families isolated from communities by the impacts of poverty.
Family support services and generalist community-capacity building services are
still very much the poor relation of community services funding.
...Worse, it has become clear to TasCOSS – as the peak community
welfare organisation in Tasmania – that our community service organisations are
now so focused on the day-to-day provision of contracted services that they are
less able to engage in forms of cross-sectoral support (to peer organisations),
in forms of systemic advocacy on policy issues, and in forms of overtly
political action to highlight government inaction. That is, the poverty-driven
stresses on service systems in the non-government sector have led not to a
louder clamour for public interventions but instead to a more inward-looking
focus on organisations' own resources and priorities.
recommended that additional resources should be devoted to explicit attempts to
increase community capacity, especially in areas of demonstrable poverty. The
primary focus of these measures should be the creation/re-creation of informal
and formal networks of support to families. It also recommended that funding
priorities to non-government service providers – through State, Commonwealth and
joint programs – should be informed by an understanding of the support needs of
low-income households, especially those experiencing long-term and/or
whole-household unemployment. Program goals should by mapped against, and
accountable in terms of, state and regional strategies to alleviate poverty.
17.51 The importance
of increased community capacity and networks is closely linked to the
effectiveness and timeliness of service delivery. This can best be seen through
the location of community services and the degree to which they are linked with
complementary services. For example, whether an emergency relief agency is
located near to or with a counselling or homeless assistance service so that
the person can access case management and other services. The Newcastle City
Council spoke of the need to encourage and support projects which attempt to
develop collaborative partnerships between agencies.
The Committee considers that there needs to be an appropriate continuum of
services in each community. This means that there needs to be universal
capacity building and early assistance services at the front end, as well as
targeted secondary and tertiary services to address individuals and families
who are in need of additional or crisis support.
17.52 The Committee
received overwhelming evidence of the increasing demand on services provided by
agencies assisting low income and disadvantaged Australians. There have been
increases in calls for emergency relief and assistance with accommodation.
Agencies are also seeing people with more complex issues and multiple levels of
disadvantage. Many people are seeking assistance from welfare agencies because
they have been breached by Centrelink.
17.53 This has placed
many agencies under considerable strain as resources are stretched to meet the
needs of clients. This is of particular concern for agencies which rely on a
largely volunteer workforce.
17.54 The Committee
received considerable evidence of the extent of the unmet demand for services.
Individual workers gave examples of many cases were their agencies have had to
turn away people because, for example, there was no emergency accommodation in
17.55 While the
evidence on the increasing demand for emergency relief was bleak, the early
intervention and prevention and intensive support programs instigated by
welfare agencies provide an effective avenue to lift people out of poverty.
These programs range from living skills programs to financial assistance for
education. They may be based in a local community or be provided nation-wide.
Whatever the case the benefits of these programs are enormous.
17.56 That the
Commonwealth government streamline the funding arrangements for all its
community funding programs.
17.57 That the
Commonwealth conduct an audit of its community funding programs to determine:
- whether they are located in the areas of greatest
- the degree to which complementary services are
there is an identifiable continuum of services from capacity building through
to tertiary and crisis support.
17.58 That COAG
conduct an audit similar to that in the previous recommendation to determine
the adequacy of Commonwealth, State and local government funded community
services in local communities.
17.59 Local government
has for a long period provided many services to those in need in their
communities. Services range from welfare services to child care and youth
services. Many councils employ staff to assist residents with housing and
employment. For example, Knox City Council, Victoria, provides a Family Support
and Community Education service which provides the following services to
- intake, assessment and referral;
- crisis counselling;
- financial counselling;
- emergency relief;
- no interest loan scheme;
- community education;
- problem gambling counselling; and
- legal service.
Councils also provide concessions
schemes for council payments such as rates.
17.60 Like the
non-government agencies, councils indicated that there had been an increase in
the number of people seeking assistance. Councils commented that there was a
growing demand for a variety of services, including housing assistance, and
emergency assistance. Darebin City Council stated that there had been a 40 per
cent increase in requests for emergency assistance between 1998 and 2000.
Knox City Council stated 'the increase in demand for assistance over the past
three years and a decrease in funding provided by local donations have forced
the [Council's emergency relief] network to severely limit the amount of aid
provided to clients. Often assistance is minimal and therefore does not address
the long-term financial issues facing the client'.
17.61 The demand for
services has been such that councils are now providing assistance in areas
where they have not traditionally had a presence.
is a funded program for which our local council had to step outside the
square–that is a financial counselling program, which is usually a state
government responsibility. But when you have funded services which are unit
cost based and then they invert the pyramid and decide that they can only
provide this many hours in financial counselling, and you end up with an
eight-week waiting period, how do you address the crisis? We convinced our
council that the prime responsibility of any local government is to its
residents and that if state and federal are not going to address the problems
then we should do it on the local level. We now have a point five position financial
Committee Hansard 1.5.03, p.160 (Laverton Community Centre &
17.62 Some local
government areas have experienced higher levels of demand because of urban
migration, particular areas on the outer fringes of major cities. This has been
driven by the gentrification and increasing housing prices in parts of major
cities. Low income families are forced out of these areas into other local
government areas to find cheap housing. In one Victorian local government area,
for example, between the two census periods of 1996 and 2001, there was a
marked increase in lowest income groups and a decrease in medium and high
Socioeconomic disadvantage becomes entrenched in specific localities: there are
relatively high proportions of low income households and reduced access to
housing, employment and educational opportunities. Increased house prices have
also driven an increase in private rents which also reduces the affordability
17.63 The Welfare
Rights and Advocacy Centre WA stated 'urban renewal has seen the relocation of
many local families into outer fringe areas in WA, particularly in the Perth
metropolitan area. Public transport infrastructure in many of these new areas
is inadequate, with only one or two buses running each day. Many families now
face increased costs in public transport as they are housed in public housing a
long distance from a city centre.'
Poor transport further hinders efforts by low income families to find
employment and to engage in educational and social activities.
17.64 The Committee
received evidence from local government authorities about their efforts to
improve services to low-income and disadvantaged families through coordinated
approaches across their municipalities and to take a more strategic approach to
reduce poverty. The City of Darebin, for example, established a Poverty Action
Group. The Group looked at housing affordability and appropriateness;
unemployment, paid and unpaid work; income security; gambling; and community
building. Darebin stated 'primarily our actions are around research, policy
development, trying to do some leadership and advocacy on areas, coordination
and facilitation of services and establishing partnerships and strategic
alliances to try and address some of these issues'.
17.65 A further
example is Newcastle City Council's Social Plan Advisory Committee, comprising
both Council and community representatives, which guides the Council in the
development of its social plan. The plan identifies key social and community
needs and strategies to address those needs. The positive trend of a community
sector that works collaboratively to develop innovative projects was
demonstrated by the example of a plan to help a local community create
enterprise. The aim is to develop 'a more supportive model where the
communities will be identifying their needs, solving their problems and
creating their own opportunities'.
17.66 The benefits of
such partnerships and strategic alliances within municipalities to focus on
areas of disadvantage and improve the provision of services are great:
Where we have local government and community working together,
networks are created, our services can be spread and we can make those that are
responsible for the provision of services actually accountable. That way, we
get a broader range of professionals.
17.67 Fairfield City
The development of cities involves very complex issues that
require consultation with all concerned, a comprehensive and co-ordinated
approach, and a level of commitment by all levels of government, and the
private sector to bring about change for the better.
An example of such a program was the 'Better Cities Program'
that highlighted the need for planning to be undertaken in order to secure
funds for implementation of government programs. The prerequisite was a
requirement to coordinate, to integrate, to partner, to innovate, to consult,
to commit joint budgets and to act to achieve outcomes.
Reinstating a similar program would greatly assist in solving
problems that contribute to severe poverty in the community.
provided to the Committee showed that the provision of services by local
government varies significantly across the States, often related to the size
and resources of the local council. However, the Committee heard about and saw many
initiatives that have been successfully undertaken at the local level, clearly
demonstrating the value of services being provided by and for the 'grass roots'
17.69 For many low
income and disadvantaged Australians, Centrelink is their principal point of
contact with government. Centrelink provides services on behalf of ten
Commonwealth departments including Family and Community Services, Health and
Ageing and Veteran's Affairs.
Access to and attitude of
17.70 The Committee
repeatedly heard evidence during the inquiry concerning difficulties with
accessing Centrelink services and the attitude of Centrelink staff. Of major
concern was the relationship between Centrelink staff and the people who seek
their help. The Salvation Army Eastern Territory stated that 'it has become
increasingly apparent, both through observation and research, that the
relationship between Centrelink, and the welfare recipient, has deteriorated to
the extent that it has become plainly adversarial'. The Committee received many
comments supporting this view of Centrelink staff attitude to their customers:
customer service staff make us feel as if we are taking money out of their own
We are treated as if we are all 'Dole Bludgers'.
135, p.3 (The Salvation Army Eastern Territory).
often the admin staff look down on them and judge them because they are
scruffily dressed, have no money, are on the dole and have not got a job. Some
of the staff have said, 'There are jobs out there; you should go out and get
one.' So they feel like they do not want to go into Centrelink, because they
are judged every time they do. They sometimes get angry; therefore they get
thrown out and do not access the service.
Committee Hansard 2.7.03, p.904 (Warrawong Community Development Project).
male applied for the dole after working for 3 years full time, with a history
of casual work since the age of 15. When he put in his application form, he
felt Centrelink's staff weren't supporting him. In fact he observed that the
staff treated people receiving benefits based on their appearance and sometimes
This young male has a history of productive employment
and yet was made to feel like a 'Blight on Society', and personally felt everyone
would label him a 'Dole Bludger'. This male person has had a productive working
employment record since he was 15 and achieved his V.C.E. and has furthered his
academic studies at University & TAFE.
...This experience of seeking welfare support has put
this person against applying for what is a rightful and justifiable claim for
assistance between jobs. This raises concerns about how other "legitimate"
claimants are treated and branded.
47, p.5 (Chelsea Neighbourhood Housing Inc).
17.71 The level of
frustration and anger of people fronting Centrelink Offices or using Call
Centres is often exacerbated when changes to their payments or financial
circumstances have been the result of Centrelink error. A report of an
evaluation of mistakes by Centrelink experienced by its customers across the
employment, families and children, youth and student, retirement, and
disability and carers payment streams indicated that the main types of mistakes
focussed on payments being stopped or debt accrued, eligibility issues and
misplaced documentation by Centrelink. The report noted that 'while it is
largely inevitable that mistakes will occur in an organisation the size of
Centrelink, the way these are handled, and perceptions of the seriousness of
these mistakes varies widely, and as such, each mistake has a different effect
on customer perceptions of the organisation'.
Centrelink officers should have a greater understanding and sensitivity in
dealing with customers who are aggrieved as a result of Centrelink's own mistakes.
17.72 There was also
evidence concerning a lack of understanding of the difficulties of particular
groups in accessing Centrelink services, the inflexibility of Centrelink in
dealing with these groups and the lack of understanding of the impact of changes
to procedures on people. The following examples provide an indication of some
of the groups involved.
17.73 The particular
concerns of women are sometimes not understood:
have experienced cases where women have been penalised by Centrelink for late
reporting of 'change of circumstances' often in the midst of a traumatising
situation. In addition we have witnessed scenarios where Centrelink has refused
to change payment details. For example, there is a 21 day waiting period for
payment to be transferred from one parent to another if the initial carer of
the child does not complete Centrelink documentation, even when there is clear
evidence that the change has occurred. Obviously, with domestic violence this
is not feasible.
93, p.2 (Lismore Women's and Children's Refuge).
17.74 There were
examples of people with mental illness experiencing poor outcomes from their
dealings with Centrelink.
found a lady who had been living on the streets for years and if anyone
deserved a pension it was her. I took her along myself to get her sorted out.
She is paranoid and all these other things, and when the clerk said, 'What is
your name?' she said, 'I don't have to tell you anything!' And then, of course,
the guy started to put all his stuff away, 'Blow you, lady,' he said. It took
days to get her sensible enough to be able to get a minimum of information.
Then I found this clerk could have just signed the form, and I said, 'Why
didn't you do that?' He said, 'She might rip the system off.' I find these
people are too silly and too debilitated to be able to even begin to work out
how to rip off the system.
Committee Hansard 20.6.03, p.662 (UnitingCare).
me, you need to talk about the staff at Centrelink and how they treat people on
the dole or on the disability support pension, especially people with mental
illnesses. Say you have schizophrenia and you are frustrated and they are not
helping or assisting you in any way. You lose your temper and you go off the
deep end. Those people just get turfed out or whatever happens. What does the
person do then? They are back on the streets. There needs to be some compassion
from some of these Centrelink people.
Committee Hansard 2.7.03, p.913 (Warrawong Community Development Project).
17.75 An example of
the impact of changes to procedure was provided in relation to itinerant
clients. These people are highly mobile and they have few personal belongings.
They often lose most or all of their belongings as they shift from place to
place. Centrelink may require the production of a birth certificate – an item
that an itinerant person is very unlikely to possess. They are then required to
pay $42 to get another birth certificate. St Vincent de Paul commented 'there
is little appreciation of how mobile many people living on the breadline are;
it does not translate into Centrelink policies or even allow for flexibility in
clients are another group which often experiences difficulties accessing
Centrelink and often are breached because they cannot respond to requests by
42, had problems dealing with Centrelink forms due to illiteracy. He was too
ashamed to tell anyone that he could not read. Normally his wife helped him by
reading out the forms but she went to hospital for four weeks for a major
operation. In that time he received a letter from Centrelink. He was
subsequently breached for failing to attend an interview. He did not realise he
had been breached until his payments were reduced. He rang Centrelink to ask
why his payments had been reduced and they informed him of the breach. First he
claimed that he had not received the letter but he eventually plucked up the
courage to tell them that he was illiterate. The breach was nevertheless
46, p.17 (SACOSS).
17.77 Another concern
was the high level of debts to Centrelink. The Welfare Rights and Advocacy
Service WA stated that 'there continues to be a significant effort on the part
of Centrelink to raise and recover debts. Particularly targeted within this
state are Indigenous people and young people, who may not have the same
capacity to challenge overpayment decisions, even where there is a substantial
merit to their case and provision for waiver action on the part of Centrelink
17.78 Evidence from
rural and regional Australia indicated that many people find contact with
Centrelink 'becomes too hard' and they just give up trying to access services.
People from rural areas have to use call centres and they find it difficult to
access the correct information. Lifeline North Queensland stated 'they do not
know what they are looking for, there they do no know what button to push'.
This puts rural people at a disadvantage.
17.79 Another example
of difficulties faced when functions are moved out of local areas was provided
by the Illawarra Legal Service. Centrelink has now located its debt recovery
section and the compensation section in Sydney. As a result, relationships are
hard to build with people in Centrelink partly because 'they are removed even
one more step from their customer client base. I think the more removed you
get, the more desensitised you become to the particular problems that
The Salvation Army described the impact for people in rural areas:
The administrative maze of debt collection in Horsham, records
in Melbourne and call centres which are goodness knows where places at a
disadvantage the already disadvantaged recipients in Ballarat and other rural
areas. It is my belief and experience that Centrelink largely fails to
understand and respond to the complexity of the needs and situations that
people in poverty present with.
17.80 The large
turnover of Centrelink staff was seen as a problem by some agencies as it
created difficulties for agencies and individuals to establish a working
relationship with Centrelink.
In other areas, the number of specialist staff has decreased or are
insufficient to deal with the demand. The Salvation Army Ballarat stated that
there had been four social workers for the area but this had been reduced so
that it is fairly difficult for a client to see a welfare worker.
St Vincent de Paul Lismore stated that Centrelink 'social workers today seem to
filter the clients back to us to go into our budget counselling. That would
suggest to me that the financial social workers in Centrelinks around Australia
are overworked and only too glad to transfer the workload wherever possible, to
Pressure on agencies from people
directed by Centrelink
17.81 A number of
agencies referred to the problem of Centrelink directing people to agencies
without making initial contact and giving the impression that the agency will
be able to provide immediate assistance. This is not always the case leading to
more frustration for those seeking assistance and greater difficulties for
agencies trying to help people.
I am sure that if you are working at the coal face of
Centrelink, when you have got someone in distress because you are not able to
assist them, it is an easier thing to say, 'Go and see that organisation, I am
sure they will help you out'.
...in all our centres we have people sent daily from Centrelink to
us and the feeling of the people coming to us is that, 'It was the government
that told us its here.'
They have great expectations and they are
disappointed half the time.
That is right, because we cannot help
everybody. We do not have the funds. We have to monitor what we are doing and
be careful with the funds.
17.82 These financial
considerations lead into a broader issue raised in evidence concerning agencies
being expected to take responsibility from government without additional
funding, in effect providing a safety net that government was failing to do.
We are picking up those who fall out of the system, or for whom
the system has failed...our funding has not increased but we are doing the work
that maybe ought to be funded or done by government at some level.
...we cannot afford to continually bail the government out of its
economic and social responsibility to its citizens. We do not have the
resources to do it, and we are just a single organisation.
Centrelink liaison with community
indicated that it had recognised the need to deal more effectively with its
customers and to develop greater links with the community sector. Centrelink
provided the Committee with examples of new programs within Centrelink offices
such as the provision of Personal Advisers to help mature aged people and
parents to engage with the workforce or to take up social opportunities.
Another program is the Financial Information Service which provides an
independent, free and confidential service to the community that encourages and
assists people to maintain or improve their standard of living by planning
effectively for retirement and maximising overall retirement income.
Centrelink also employs welfare staff in its offices and other specialist staff
such as disability-specific staff.
indicated that its staff maintain contact with local organizations through
regular meetings and consultations. Newcastle City Council noted that Centrelink
had been involved in a number of its community consultations:
They are involved in some of our networks, like our homelessness
network, so on a local level they have been quite participatory in what the
local community perceives are its issues and looking at how they can work on
local community issues. We have also been invited to Centrelink forums
regarding venue policies, been briefed on what those policies are and been
asked for input. Those processes are very open.
Other agencies also indicated that they met with the local
Centrelink staff on a regular basis and that the meetings are very positive.
However, this was not always the case and there are areas where meetings
between agencies and Centrelink do not occur.
commented that it 'was trying to present itself as being part of the community
and facilitate in some instances the getting together of a number of community
organisations to look at individual cases, particularly with youth'.
At the same time, Centrelink through the Community Connect trial, is working on
a more cooperative approach to sharing information about services.
17.86 As part of Australians
Working Together, Centrelink staff created directories of services in
locations. For the last year, Centrelink has been working with the community
sector as how this information might be shared with them, 'in terms of giving a wide range of organisations access to
a site that has a lot of detail on all those sorts of services in small
locations, large locations, state funded community organisations and
non-government organisations'. The trials are under way at the moment with some
key organizations, including the Smith Family, the Benevolent Society and the
Brotherhood of St Laurence, to look at how the site may be used in a more
cooperative way for sharing other information and for giving agencies access to
more information that Centrelink holds.
17.87 Centrelink is
also using programs which respond more effectively to local community needs and
targets groups in need. The use of support staff in Centrelink offices has
proved valuable. St Patrick's Community Support Centre gave evidence on the
value of community support staff in Centrelink:
Of our 93 residents and lodgers, the vast bulk of them are on
some form of Centrelink payment. We have an excellent relationship with the
local Centrelink people. They have a community support person out of the
Centrelink office who is working really well. That is great. In terms of
Centrelink and how it used to be and the difficulties that were associated with
ringing up support staff within the Centrelink office, their having a person
who is identified as a community person has certainly made my life a lot
easier. I am able to ring in and say, 'What is the situation with this client?'
They are able to tell me what is going on and it is able to be put to bed
17.88 Co-location of
staff in Centrelink offices has also improved services. For example, in Sutherland, there are issues around tenancy rates, so a housing
officer spends a day a week in the Centrelink office. This provides a
coordinated service for clients. Outservicing is another way of improving
services. Customer service officers visit organizations where there are
particular issues and particular problems. Officers visit local juvenile justice
centres, boarding houses and alcohol and drug services. The Rev Bill Crews indicated the benefits of this program as Centrelink
visits his centre: 'one of the good things that Centrelink does is provide
someone who comes down and spends a day with us and meets the people where they
are. They bring along their laptop, plug it in and do it all there'.
17.89 Centrelink is
also targeting groups which have problems in accessing their services. One
group is released prisoners who find it intimidating
to have to come into Centrelink offices. Centrelink has been working with the
correctional departments in all the States and Territories, looking at
arrangements for Centrelink staff to be located in the prisons themselves
before the prisoners are released so that Centrelink can connect them with
their parole officers, with the courts. This will result in a more seamless
integration of services and Centrelink officers will understand what referrals
are out there for them.
17.90 In relation to
illiterate clients, Centrelink is at present looking at better assessment tools
to try to improve referrals for this group. However, Centrelink stated that
these matters should be discussed at the initial grant interview with a person,
but 'it does require the customer themselves to be prepared to talk to
Centrelink about those issues, and in many cases they prefer not to say
17.91 The Committee
heard a great deal of evidence, both negative and positive, concerning
Centrelink. The Committee acknowledges that the role of Centrelink is often
difficult and that programs have been put in place to build effective working
relationships with welfare providers and to provide services more in line with
the particular needs and circumstances of clients.
17.92 However, there
was also evidence that the level of flexibility and willingness to build
relationships varies between Centrelink offices. There was also evidence that
there are insufficient specialist staff in some areas to meet increasing
17.93 That Centrelink
Community Service Centres be resourced to establish local management advisory
committees with membership drawn from its customer base, emergency relief
providers, local schools, the police, employers and community representatives
to sensitise service delivery to local needs.
17.94 That Centrelink
CSCs be resourced to act as community service hubs for Commonwealth
government-funded programs to ensure there is a greater connection between
income support and other human service delivery.
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