The Farm Household Allowance Protocol for Supporting Delivery (the protocol) describes the supporting role of the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) counsellors in delivery of the Farm Household Allowance (FHA). It provides guidance on the respective roles of the RFCS counsellors and Farm Household Case Officers (FHCOs) (noting the role of the case officers is prescribed in legislation).
To assist in circumstances where a FHA recipient is also a RFCS client, the protocol seeks to ensure the following outcomes. That:
- the roles of RFCS counsellors, FHCOs, prescribed advisers and other parties are complementary and that any duplication of activity is avoided
- services are delivered in a way that ensures the best outcomes for farmers.
Review of the protocol
To test how the protocol is being used and to ensure it is providing sufficient guidance, a review was undertaken in late 2014. The review was undertaken by the Department of Agriculture with input from stakeholders.
The key findings of the review, as outlined in the review report, found that overall:
- the protocol has been useful for its intended purpose and is working well
- the protocol provides sufficient information to support the RFCS and the FHCOs in their respective roles
- many relationships between the RFCS and FHCOs are strong
- RFCSs and FHCOs are implementing new strategies to work around issues and ensure FHA customers are supported.
The review made the following five recommendations:
- Consider amendments to the protocol to reflect, in greater detail, the range of activities the RFCS can assist FHA customers with. This should include:
- Noting the RFCS’ ability to assist clients with FHA applications.
- Referring to the RFCS Charter to ensure FHCOs are aware of the full suite of services the RFCS can provide FHA customers.
- Clarify the referral process, specifically the types of referrals that require the FHCO to notify the RFCS Executive Officer, and guidelines for sharing information between FHCOs and the RFCS.
- Consider mechanisms to streamline the referral process from FHCOs to the RFCS.
- The departments of Agriculture and Human Services to consider mechanisms that will facilitate FHCO referrals to the RFCS and enable the RFCS executive officers to be the first point of contact where appropriate.
- Conduct a second review (to commence in the first six months of 2015) once a greater number of FHA Financial Improvement Agreements have been completed and the RFCS has had a greater opportunity to be involved in their development and implementation.
The Department of Agriculture is in the process of implementing these recommendations to enhance FHA delivery, this includes the development of the revised
Farm Household Allowance protocol for supporting delivery
(January 2015 version) to replace the original protocol (July 2014 version). The
clearly highlights the differences between the two versions by displaying the revised protocol (January 2015 version) in track changes.
Farm Household Allowance Protocol for Supporting Delivery (January 2015 version)
|Case Officer||Farm Household Case Officer|
|DHS||Department of Human Services|
|EAP||Enterprise Action Plan|
|FHA||Farm Household Allowance|
|FFA||Farm Financial Assessment|
|FIA||Financial Improvement Agreement|
|Interim FHA||Interim Farm Household Allowance|
|Prescribed Adviser||Defined under the
Farm Household Support Act 2014|
|RFCS||Rural Financial Counselling Service|
|RSO||Rural Services Officer|
|TFFP||Transitional Farm Family Payment|
|TIS||Transitional Income Support|
This protocol has been updated to reflect the recommendations of the
Review of the Farm Household Allowance protocol for supporting delivery undertaken by the Department of Agriculture between October and December 2014. Additional updates have been made to reflect the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) coming into effect on 1 July 2014 and previous income support payments (Transitional Farm Family Payment (TFFP) and Interim FHA), including transitional arrangements, having ceased.
This protocol describes the roles and responsibilities associated with the delivery of the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) and seeks to ensure that:
- the roles of the Rural Financial Counsellor, Case Officer, Prescribed Adviser and other parties are complementary and that any duplication of activity, real or perceived, is avoided and
- services are delivered in a way which ensures the best outcomes for farmers and their partners.
Like its predecessor programs, Transitional Income Support (TIS), the TFFP and the Interim FHA, the FHA is designed to help farmers experiencing financial hardship meet their daily living expenses, while allowing them to review their financial and business circumstances and develop options to become financially self-reliant.
The Pilot of Drought Reform Measures in Western Australia (1 July 2010 to 30 June 2012), which involved DHS Rural Services Officers (RSOs) working together with the Rural Financial Counselling Service, informed the development of the FHA and this protocol. The Pilot showed the RSOs were able to identify other payments and services for which clients may have been eligible and streamlined clients’ access to these. They also achieved successful outcomes for clients through the use of action plans.
While Rural Financial Counsellors’ roles in supporting the delivery of income support payments for farmers will be different under the FHA when compared to previous income support programs, they will continue to play an important and ongoing role both in working with Interim FHA recipients transitioning to the FHA, and with new FHA recipients. Recipients can choose to engage a Rural Financial Counsellor at any time prior to or during receipt of the FHA.
The roles of the Rural Financial Counsellors and Case Officers will be augmented by a range of other service providers as appropriate (as detailed in
1.1 Objective of the FHA
From 1 July 2014, the FHA will provide fortnightly income support payments to eligible farmers and their partners to meet their basic household expenses while they take action to address their long-term financial security. The FHA can be used to address all causes of hardship: it is not dependent on climatic triggers or state drought declarations or exceptional circumstances declarations1.
The payment is limited to a cumulative maximum of three years per recipient to:
- encourage farmers and their partners to improve their financial circumstances
- avoid creating an unreasonable dependence on government assistance
- ensure the agriculture sector adjusts appropriately to changes over time.
1.2 Activity Requirements of the FHA
Applicants must agree to undertake certain activities that will assist them to improve their financial circumstances in order to receive the FHA.
As specified in the
Farm Household Support Act 2014 (the Act) and associated Explanatory Memorandum, FHA recipients and their partners will each need to develop a Financial Improvement Agreement (FIA) with a Case Officer2. The FIA is a tool for recipients and their partners to plan their goals, strategies and actions for improving their financial self-reliance.
As detailed in the Act, the FIA needs to clearly outline the compulsory activities that the recipient must complete in order to be paid the FHA. The FIA may also outline any activities the recipient may volunteer to undertake.
The recipient's and their partner's FIA may be quite different, particularly if the partner is not involved in making decisions about the farm business. A partner’s FIA may be more focussed on getting new skills, gaining full-time off-farm employment, or accessing other forms of assistance that recognises any carer responsibilities or health concerns they may have.
Recipients who fail to undertake the mandatory activities outlined in their FIA will have their payment suspended or cancelled. Recipients may negotiate short-term exemptions for activities with their Case Officer where they are affected by circumstances beyond their control (eg illness).
Recipients will be eligible for up to $3,000 in Activity Supplements to pay for training, advice and other services needed to complete the activities in their FIA.
A recipient's FIA will be informed by a Farm Financial Assessment (FFA). The FFA is an assessment of the financial position of both the farm enterprise and the recipient(s). The purpose of the assessment is to develop and evaluate options to improve the financial position of the recipient through an analysis of their goals, resources, barriers and liabilities.
The FFA comprises several parts; some to be completed by the recipient and/or their partner, and others to be completed by a Prescribed Adviser3. The FFA will be available for completion on-line; however a printable version will also be available for completion off-line.
Recipients will be eligible for a $1,500 voucher to access the services of a Prescribed Adviser to complete the FFA. The recipient is responsible for selecting a Prescribed Adviser that meets certain professional requirements and who will complete the FFA to a particular standard in order to be paid.
1 The Exceptional Circumstances arrangements ceased on 30 June 2014.
2A Case Officer is an Australian Public Service officer who is delegated this responsibility by the relevant departmental Secretary.
3 Under the
Farm Household Support Act 2014, a Prescribed Adviser has qualifications relevant to the form of advice being provided and is a member of a professional association appropriate for that advice.
2. DHS roles
DHS will process applications for the FHA against the program’s eligibility criteria and manage the activity test requirements as specified in the
Farm Household Support Act 2014, the
Social Security Act 1991, the
Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 and associated supporting material.
DHS will also the check the bona fides of, and organise payment for, Prescribed Advisers, as well as pay Activity Supplements so recipients can fund the training, advice and other services required for their FIA.
2.1 Case Officers
The Case Officers have been recruited from within DHS and are therefore already experienced service delivery officers. They have received targeted core skills training and will complete further modules as needed to support the qualification and payability assessment processes.
Case Officers will discuss with the recipient their Prescribed Adviser’s recommendations. The Case Officers will develop FIAs with recipients and review these, in conjunction with recipients and Rural Financial Counsellors (with the agreement of the recipient), at least quarterly. Where appropriate, the contents of an FIA can be renegotiated with the Case Officer.
Case Officers may assist the recipient to source necessary information and advice about what formal training the recipient may need to undertake and encourage them to explore their long term options with other service providers as appropriate, including Rural Financial Counsellors.
In addition to recipients having ongoing access to a Rural Financial Counsellor during the receipt of the FHA, Case Officers may also refer a FHA recipient to a Rural Financial Counsellor at any time. Instances where this is likely to occur include where the recipient indicates they wish to continue an established relationship with a Rural Financial Counsellor, where the recipient would like to establish a relationship, or where the Case Officer considers that such a referral may be beneficial.
Case Officers can also use the ‘check list’ at
Attachment B to determine if early access to, and in-depth assistance from a Rural Financial Counsellor is necessary. For example, if the recipient has:
- been assessed as ‘high risk’ by the FFA
- applied for the income offset
- been advised they can commence the FIA prior to receiving the payment
- indicated that they have a low level of financial literacy.
Case Officers will encourage recipients that have an existing relationship with a Rural Financial Counsellor to continue their work together, and will ensure recipients are informed of this option.
A formalised referral to the RFCS is only required under the following circumstance:
- the FHA recipient is not an existing RFCS client (they do not have a current EAP or Interim FHA plan they are working on with the RFCS), and
- the recipient is required to work with the RFCS as a compulsory FHA activity; an activity specified in the recipients FIA.
Where a Case Officer refers a new FHA recipient to a Rural Financial Counsellor, the Case Officer will contact the Executive Officer of the relevant Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) to advise that a recipient will be referred. There are two ways that this can be done; however, the referral process may vary depending on individual circumstances:
- If the Case Officer has the appropriate level of permission from the FHA recipient, they can provide the recipient’s name and contact details to the RFCS EO. They can call or email this information through to the RFCS EO and note the local RFC to whom they would like to refer the recipient.
- If the Case Officer does not have the appropriate level of permission from the FHA recipient, they will not contact the RFCS EO but will provide the FHA recipient with the details of the RFCS/RFC to which they wish to refer the customer. The RFC who receives the referral will be responsible for providing details of the referral, as appropriate, within their service.
Contact details for the 14 RFCSs across Australia are available on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.
If possible, it is recommended that the Case Officer advise the RFC/Executive Officer of the reasons for referring the recipient to the RFCS; it may be that a Rural Financial Counsellor is best placed to complete specified activities with the recipient (eg start the preparation work for completing a formal succession planning process) or undertake more in-depth work where the recipient requires more specialised support (such as assistance with gaining financial literacy skills).
In any case, the recipient will be the one who needs to progress their engagement with the RFCS, particularly were it is a mandatory FIA activity.
A flow chart outlining the referral process from Case Officers to the RFCS is provided at Attachment C.
More details on the roles of Case Officers are provided in
3. Rural Financial Counsellor Roles
While the role of Rural Financial Counsellors may vary depending on whether a FHA recipient is an existing RFCS client or a new one, there are a number of roles that Rural Financial Counsellors can perform regardless, including:
- providing supporting to applicants in completing the FHA application form
- helping recipients to populate the non-financial advice parts of the FFA (Part A of the FFA)
- developing the goals, strategies and actions section of the FIA with the mutual agreement of the recipient and the Case Officer
- participating in meetings with recipients about their progress against their FIA
- helping clients complete their FIA activities if these fall within the scope of the RFCS program.
In addition to the above roles, Rural Financial Counsellors can assist FHA recipients with any activity that aligns with the RFCS Program Charter. A copy of the charter is available at
3.1 Existing Rural Financial Counsellor Relationships - FHA recipients that are RFCS clients
Prior to sharing any client information, the Rural Financial Counsellors and/or RFCS must ensure they have appropriate documentation to confirm the client’s consent for information to be shared between the RFCS and the Case Officer/DHS.
To enable the RFCS to contact the Case Officer/DHS to make an enquiry on their client’s behalf, a form,
Authorising a person or organisation to enquire or act on your behalf, must be completed and signed by the FHA recipient and the counsellor/RFCS representative. This authorisation allows the Case Officer/DHS to provide information to the RFCS about the recipients FHA. This form
does not provide consent for:
- the Case Officer to provide a copy of the recipient’s FFA or the FIA to the RFCS
- the RFCS to provide information to the Case Officer/DHS about the FHA recipient/RFCS client.
A copy of the form can be downloaded from the DHS website. An example of a completed form is at Attachment F (for reference only).
To allow the RFCS to provide information about the FHA recipient/RFCS client to the Case Officer/DHS additional client consent is required. It is the responsibility of each RFCS to develop appropriate documentation in order to obtain client consent.
Where recipients give appropriate consent to do so, Rural Financial Counsellors will be able to outline (amongst other things) the following to the Case Officer:
- the recipient's current financial and business circumstances
- potential barriers and/or opportunities for change
- progress made to date under previous action plans (under TIS, TFFP or an Enterprise Action Plan [EAP])
- services/programs accessed to date and future ones that could be accessed
- whether the recipient would benefit from continuing their relationship with the
Rural Financial Counsellor.
There is no requirement that a recipient complete both the FIA and an EAP; the FIA will be taken to be meeting the mutual obligations for a client to access the RFCS.
Where a recipient wishes to continue using an EAP, the Rural Financial Counsellor and Case Officer should ensure that the EAP and FIA are complementary, particularly as recipients
must meet their FHA activity test requirements in order to continue accessing income support.
FHA recipients are entitled to provide their Rural Financial Counsellor with a copy of their FHA documentation, such as their FFA and FIA.
3.2 Recipients Referred to a Rural Financial Counsellor by a Case Officer - new RFCS clients
As outlined above (section 2.1), if given consent to do so by the FHA recipient, the Case Officer should advise the relevant Executive Officer of the referral and the reasons the recipient is being referred – for example, requiring assistance with a mandatory activity stipulated in the recipients FIA – to a Rural Financial Counsellor and what specific or general activities should be completed.
Contact details for the 14 RFCSs across Australia are available on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.
Where a Case Officer refers a new FHA recipient to a Rural Financial Counsellor, it will not be compulsory for the recipient to complete both an EAP and FIA. The Australian Rural Counselling (ARC) Database can record those RFCS clients managed under a FIA as being ‘case managed’ for the purposes of the RFCS Program.
FHA recipients are entitled to provide their Rural Financial Counsellor with a copy of their FHA documentation, such as their FFA and FIA. Case Officers will not provide a recipient’s FHA documentation, such as their FFA and/or FIA, to the RFCS – this is the responsibility of the recipients if they wish to do so.
3.3 Executive Officers
Executive Officers will perform an important role in bringing together Rural Financial Counsellors and Case Officers. Executive Officers will encourage their Rural Financial Counsellors to make contact with their local Case Officers and/or DHS office to discuss how the two agencies can best work together.
3.4 Recipients transitioning off the FHA
The period of support under the FHA is limited to three cumulative years for each recipient.
If a recipient decides to stop accessing the FHA or ceases to receive the payment due to not meeting their activity test requirements, and they wish to continue seeing a Rural Financial Counsellor, the Rural Financial Counsellor will need to re-assess how a client is returned to an EAP; the Rural Financial Counsellor should assess the contents of the FIA (if the FHA customer has provided a copy) and transfer relevant activities (especially those that are well underway) back into the EAP as appropriate.
It is recommended, where appropriate recipient consent is given, that the Rural Financial Counsellor and Case Officer have a discussion about any recipients who are coming off the FHA who wish to continue seeing a Rural Financial Counsellor; this will allow the Rural Financial Counsellor to be well prepared when assessing how a client should be transitioned back to an EAP.
A former FHA recipient, who has not reached the three year limit, may reapply to access the FHA. It is recommended, where appropriate recipient consent is given, that the Rural Financial Counsellor and Case Officer plan a joint handover meeting with those former FHA recipients/current RFCS clients transitioning back onto the FHA.
To date, Rural Financial Counsellors have had limited opportunities to be involved in the development and implementation of FIAs. As a greater number of FHA recipients begin their FIAs, while referrals to the RFCS are not mandatory, an increase in RFCS involvement is expected.
To ensure the objectives of the FHA continue to be met, and the RFCS are well placed to assist Case Officers and FHA recipients with FHA activities as appropriate, a second review of this protocol will be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture in the first half of 2015. This review will focus on the development and implementation of FHA recipient FIAs and the RFCS involvement in these, including referral processes.
More broadly, Executive Officers are encouraged to raise any FHA interpretation or implementation questions with the Department of Agriculture via the Rural Financial Counselling Program team or the
FHA Policy and Legislation
This checklist is provided for the use of Case Officers. If the response to one or more questions below is ‘Yes’, the Case Officer should consider whether in-depth assistance by a Rural Financial Counsellor is needed. Once the referral has been received and allocated by a RFCS Executive Officer, it is recommended that the Rural Financial Counsellor discuss with the Case Officer the reasons for referring the recipient to the RFCS.
|1. Has the recipient applied for the income offset (which requires that the recipient cannot renegotiate an alternative payment arrangement with their lender) and/or is on a path towards Farm Debt Mediation?|| || |
|2. Will the FHA recipient benefit from improving financial literacy and gain an understanding of financial statements?|| || |
|3. Will the FHA recipient benefit from improving their farm management skills, cash flow budgeting and business planning skills – to achieve self-reliance?|| || |
|4. Is the FHA recipient experiencing ongoing difficulty paying monthly bills?|| || |
|5. Is the FHA recipient struggling to service farm debts following many years of drought and subsequent natural disasters?|| || |
|6. Has the FHA recipient failed to generate an operating profit for the last three consecutive financial years and debts are rising due to ongoing financial losses?
(i.e. diminishing equity over those years)
| || |
|7. Is the FHA recipient being managed by their bank or financial institutions credit management department?|| || |
|8. Is the FHA recipient being pressured by their bank to sell the farm or refinance?|| || |
|9. Are children involved in the family farm business (or planning to become so) and does the FHA recipient’s family need help with succession plan preparation before being referred to a professional adviser?|| || |
|10. Will the FHA recipient require help with identifying farm enterprise options to make informed decisions?|| || |
|11. Does the FHA recipient need to address risks to their farming enterprise?|| || |
|12. Does the FHA recipient need help to plan for changes in seasonal conditions?|| || |
|13. Will the FHA recipient benefit from information and help to access other Government assistance (separate to DHS) to ensure long-term productivity and sustainable land use?|| || |
Referral process: Case Officer to the RFCS
Key Duties and Tasks of Case Officers
Case Officers’ duties and tasks include (amongst other things):
- Make contact with each recipient (and their partner if they are also claiming the FHA) to discuss their current financial and personal circumstances, and explain the requirement for a FIA to be developed and agreed.
- Develop an FIA for each recipient/partner, with a Rural Financial Counsellor where consent has been provided, and provide it to the applicant for signature.
- Communicate with each recipient (and their partner, if relevant) at least every 13 weeks to discuss their current circumstances and ensure they are meeting the requirements of their FIA.
- Discuss with the recipient/partner, where appropriate, including other DHS programs and services and external referrals that could be of assistance to them (including to Rural Financial Counsellors), and make referrals through the correct channels.
- Conduct one face-to-face meeting at each farm enterprise within the three years that FHA is payable.
RFCS Program Charter
The purpose of the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) Program is to provide free support to primary producers, fishers and small rural businesses (the target client group) who are suffering financial hardship, and who have no alternative sources of impartial assistance, to manage the challenges of change and adjustment.
The RFCS Program operates as a partnership between the Australian and state governments and non-government, not-for-profit organisations that employ rural financial counsellors.
The objectives of the RFCS Program are to:
- provide clients with access to financial information, options, decision support and referrals to other sources of industry, professional and government assistance
- empower clients to make their own decisions on how to most effectively manage change and adjustment issues
- deliver effective, flexible and responsive services to those in need of assistance.
Rural financial counsellors
Rural financial counsellors are qualified and experienced in working with rural clients to achieve positive outcomes.
Rural financial counsellors aim to:
- help clients understand their financial and business position
- help clients understand their financial and business options
- improve clients’ abilities to plan operations, achieve realistic goals and identify risks
- help clients complete action plans to address industry adjustment and climate change pressures
- connect clients to information about government and industry assistance
- refer clients to accountants, agricultural advisers and other relevant professionals, as required
- refer clients to professionals for succession planning, family support and personal (social and emotional) counselling, as required
- assist clients to identify their advice and training needs
- apply a case management approach to provide clients with an holistic outcome.
Rural financial counsellors cannot provide financial advice, succession planning or family, emotional or social counselling, but they can provide referrals to appropriate professionals and information on how to prepare for discussions with succession planning experts.
RFCS Program outcomes
Medium and short-term outcomes
Improving awareness and understanding
The target client group, and individuals and institutions operating within the RFCS referral network, are aware of:
- the RFCS Program and available services and resources that can be delivered through the RFCS network
- the benefits of early access to the service
- the need for a proactive approach to manage change and adjustment.
Flexible and timely access
The target client group can access the RFCS Program to receive financial information, options, decision support and referrals in a flexible and timely manner.
Service delivery arrangements are:
- meeting the needs of clients
- meeting the needs of government funding partners
- providing information, analyses, options and referrals to RFCS clients in a way that helps them understand and improve their financial position and prepares them to meet the potential challenges they may face, including the implications of climate change.
Longer term outcomes
Building capacity and empowerment
Clients accept the need to make changes to their businesses and achieve goals to improve financial self reliance and long-term sustainability (for some this may include considering exiting from farm or small rural business ownership).
Clients develop the skills and confidence to act on the financial information, options, decision support and referrals provided by a rural financial counsellor.
Rural financial counselling service providers continue to demonstrate high standards of governance and accountability.
Clients increase their adoption of sound and proactive approaches to farm or small rural business management and regularly review their situation.
The RFCS Program is helping clients to:
- effectively manage change and adjustment
- be more profitable, competitive and sustainable.
Example form – Authorising a person or organisation to enquire or act on your behalf