Steve Snelgrove from Lismore and District Financial Counselling Service.
Steve Snelgrove from Lismore and District Financial Counselling Service. The Northern Star

Financial counsel always valuable

WHEN Steve Cox was made redundant last August he was worried about how he would provide for his young family but, as one former colleague described him, he is 'an arsey bastard who can fall into a sewer and come out wearing a dinner suit'.

When The Northern Star tracked down Mr Cox yesterday he was working for a mate installing an aquarium in Brisbane before he starts a new full-time job as a graphic artist in Lismore next month.

“It came as a shock. I had been working at the company since 1991,” he said. “I didn't know how I was going to carry on.”

But word among his mates soon spread and offers of work started pouring in.

“Things have worked out fantastically. It's been great. I managed to do a bit of work about the house, looked after the kids - the whole Mr Mum thing - and we paid off the mortgage,” he said. “I can highly recommend it.”

Mr Cox is one of thousands who have been laid off this year as Australia is ravaged by the world economic slowdown.

From big companies, like mining giant Rio Tinto and ANZ Bank to smaller businesses workers are being made redundant or having their hours drastically cut.

As the boom times of the past two decades turn to talk of a pending recession, unemployment in the Northern Rivers is once again on the rise, jumping to 7.2 per cent for the past three months, well above the national average of 4.1 per cent.

Steve Snelgrove, senior financial counsellor at Lismore and District Financial Counselling Service, is at the coal face and has seen the daily impact of the rise in redundancies.

“We've had the biggest year ever in the history of financial counselling in this area,” he said.

He said that in the first six months of the year, most people seeking help with their finances were concerned about rising interest rates. That had now changed.

“We are now seeing more and more people who have had their hours cut or have been laid off,” he said.

Unfortunately one thing economists now agree on is that more people will lose their jobs during the next six months. Treasury economists predict national unemployment will hit 5 per cent by June. Some economists are more bearish, tipping a rate of 9 per cent by 2010.

Southern Cross University adjunct professor Lawson Savery is downcast about the immediate future.

“There will be many more redundancies right across the board,” he said. “We haven't reached the cusp yet. That won't happen until May or June next year.”

Still, while losing a job can be dramatic and can stress finances, it can be an opportunity.

“You have to turn things to your own advantage,” Tursa Employment and Training general manager Ron Rathbourne said.

“There are many, many people who have been retrenched and gone on to better things and do what they have always wanted to do.”

The first step to making a redundancy work for you is to find out what is on offer.

“The big tragedy is people don't know that there are a number of things they can do straightaway that gives them some sense of relief and a sense of being in control,” Mr Rathbourne said.

“One of the big things we see is that if you don't do anything immediately (to get your finances in order), when you get back to work you have problems with creditors.”

Under the Uniform Credit Code people who have mortgages, personal loans, outstanding credit card balances and most other forms of personal debt can apply for hardship assistance.

If the credit provider rejects the application, people should contact a service like financial counsellors or legal aid, he said.

Under the law, credit providers cannot say no.

The next step is to register with Centrelink, which Mr Rathbourne described as 'the gateway to your new life'.

Newly unemployed are entitled to basic assistance for the first three months. If people don't find a job in that time, they then receive specialised job search training.

The longer-term unemployed are also entitled to free training.

The Federal Government announced in October it was increasing spending on jobs training by $187 million, bringing the total to $2 billion over the next five years, providing more than 701,000 places.


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