COVID meant Abigail lost her job, but not her hope

January 11, 2022

When Abigail lost her job during the COVID pandemic and needed emergency surgery to treat a tumour, she found herself all of a sudden struggling to pay the bills, but CatholicCare’s financial counselling service helped get her back on track and in a stronger position going forward. 

“I was the Business Development Manager for a gym for many years,” says Abigail, aged in her 20’s. 

But on day one of COVID last year, I received an email saying, I’d lost my job. So, just like that, I’d lost my income.

During the time she had to wait for her Centrelink application to kick in, Abigail struggled to pay her rent and her car loan, along with regular bills. Her emergency surgery for a painful tumour added to the challenges. 

After unsuccessful negotiations with her real estate agent and realising she needed help, Abigail considered paying for financial advice, even though she didn’t have the money. Thankfully, one of the services she approached told her about CatholicCare’s free financial counselling service. 

Martin, Coordinator of CatholicCare’s financial counselling program, says that once Abigail approached CatholicCare for help, he was able to help her navigate her way through some of the financial difficulties she was facing. 

“We helped her access the appropriate Centrelink benefits for her situation and helped secure a payment arrangement for her car loan and her telephone provider,” he says. 

CatholicCare also helped have Abigail’s unpaid tolls, which she says were the result of a dispute with her former employer, waived. We sponsored Abigail on a work and development order, based on Abigail’s study load, which paid off her State debt fines. 

Martin says people come to CatholicCare’s financial counselling program for a variety of reasons and via many different paths. 

“Some of our clients finds us, as Abigail did via Google and word-of-mouth,” he says. “But others come to us from within CatholicCare. For example, people engaged with our domestic violence services can often be experiencing financial problems. In other cases, a bank could suggest seeing a financial counsellor to work out what your options are if people are contemplating bankruptcy. They’d be encouraged to seek financial counselling advice before going down that route. We also receive referrals from emergency service providers like St Vincent de Paul or CatholicCare’s own services which provide grocery vouchers for people in need. If someone’s regularly accessing those services, we’d say, let’s try and find out what your underlying financial issues are.” 

CatholicCare helps people understand their rights under consumer credit legislation and can advocate for them. 

Abigail says such advocacy was a game changer for her situation. 

“Martin contacted people where I’d previously been on hold on the phone for three hours, and he got through quicker and they seemed to pay more attention and we were able to get things sorted out,” she says. 

“Overall, it was a turning point for me. I understood that they were advising me, not doing the work for me, but it was really helpful. We worked out budgets going forward and now I feel I’m in a stronger position and if I do get into debt again I’ll know some strategies for dealing with it.” 

Abigail, who has had a baby in recent months, says she has been able to spread the word about CatholicCare’s financial counselling services through her networks and hopes many more people will come to hear about what’s available. 

“I’ve told lots of people about it, especially in my mothers’ group, where because of COVID lots of people are finding it hard to buy baby formula, or feed their kids or pay the rent and I know it’s helped them too.” 

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