What is the Rural Financial Counselling Service Program?

The Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) Program is an Australian Government initiative that provides free and independent financial counselling to eligible farmers, fishers, foresters and small related enterprises who are experiencing, or at risk of, financial hardship.

 

Background

The Rural Financial Counselling Service Program has been in operation since 1986. Funding rounds and approaches have been continually reviewed and adjusted over the years to improve the performance of the program and drive efficiencies, to support the agricultural sector in times of stress.

In 2019, the department conducted an internal review of the operation and structure of the 2016 to 2020 RFCS Program. This involved nationwide consultations to consider the efficiency and effectiveness of the current program.

The internal review made a number of recommendations to improve outcomes for clients and the performance of service providers. This new grant opportunity implements many of the recommendations.

Key components of the refocused Rural Financial Counselling Service Program are:

  • enhancing service delivery to maximise client engagement and counsellor reach
  • prioritising case management to support decision making and drive long-term behavioural change in clients that improves financial viability and self-sufficiency
  • increasing clients’ financial management skills and knowledge enabling them to confidently manage their finances effectively upon exiting the program
  • improving the program’s monitoring, evaluation and assurance approach, while also reducing administrative burden for counsellors.

 

Objectives

The vision for the 2021 to 2024 Rural Financial Counselling Service Program is to empower clients to take control of their financial situation and cultivate financially capable primary producers that are profitable, self-reliant and resilient.

The objectives of the RFCS Program are to:

  • transition clients out of financial crisis
  • improve clients’ business profitability or facilitate a dignified exit
  • improve clients’ financial well-being and resilience.

The overarching outcome of the program is that clients who engage with the service become financially self-reliant and their businesses are better prepared to deal with risks.

 

Funding

There are grants available in each of the 12 predefined service regions (see section 5.3 of the guidelines). For the 2021 to 2024 RFCS Program, a majority of the Australian Government funding (core funding) will be allocated to the predefined service regions, with only 5% being held as a contingency reserve (see Table 1). The core funding allocation for each of the 12 predefined service regions is based on farm numbers, low cash income farms and debt profiles at the regional level.

Contingency funding will be allocated to service regions where updated data indicates a greater pool of eligible clients experiencing financial hardship or where increased demand for services (for example, as a result of industry disruption) has been established. There is no guarantee that service regions will receive any contingency funding. The Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management will make the decision on the allocation of the contingency reserve.

An additional $4.125 million (GST inclusive) contingency funding is available in the 2021–22 financial year only. This one-off funding will be available to service regions impacted by the 2019–20 bushfires as outlined in the Prime Minister’s, the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, announcement of 14 January 2020. This is contingency funding and will be assessed accordingly and approved by the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management in due course.

 

Eligible Projects

The grant can only be used for expenditure the grantee has incurred for the delivery of free rural financial counselling services in a predefined service region(s).

The grantee must incur the expenditure on program activities between the start date and end date of the grant agreement for it to be eligible.

Grant funding may be used for:

  • salaries for rural financial counselling staff and support staff, including superannuation and leave provisions
  • direct support costs of running a service, including office costs, utility costs, accounting and audit costs
  • capital items, such as equipment necessary for running a service (for example, desks, IT equipment etc.) and vehicles
  • costs associated with professional development for staff
  • marketing and promotion of the program and services.

As noted in section 3.1 of the guidelines, establishment funding may be provided to particular grantees that request it. This will be negotiated with the relevant grantees and included in their grant agreement.

 

Eligible Applicants

Applications are sought from eligible organisations or consortia.

To be eligible you must be a legal entity with an Australian Business Number (ABN), have or are able to create an account with an Australian financial institution and be capable of entering into a legally binding and enforceable grant agreement with the Commonwealth.

To be eligible you must be one of the following entity types:

  • Indigenous Corporation registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth)
  • Company incorporated under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth)
  • Cooperative
  • Incorporated Association
  • Unincorporated Association
  • Trustee on behalf of a Trust
  • Partnership

 

Timing

Applications close 11 December 2020.

 

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