We ask for financial help too late

QUEENSLANDERS were not seeking help for financial problems until it is almost too late, a financial counsellor told a Senate inquiry hearing on Tuesday.

David Lawson, secretary of the Financial Counsellors' Association of Queensland, told the inquiry a piecemeal approach to helping the unemployed was not working.

The inquiry is looking into the amount of government assistance unemployed people get, as well as whether the welfare system is actually helping people return to work.

Many groups, including the Australian Council of Social Services, Business Council of Australia and St Vincent's De Paul, already have called for at least a $50 weekly raise to the $244 Newstart Allowance for singles.

Mr Lawson said he would support such an increase, but there were other things that could be done, including providing a free-call number for people to contact Centrelink, while currently those most in need have to pay for calls.

"Typically, we see people three to six months too late for us to really help them avoid major financial problems," he said.

"But in my own practice, often people don't come to me until it's nine months too late, people are already too far gone and their only option is often to declare bankruptcy."

Mr Lawson said you only had to ask the "4000 public servants in Queensland who have already been sacked" how hard it was to get by on the dole.

And the effects on the unemployment were even worse "outside the south-east corner", he said.

"Then distances are longer, which means transport costs of just getting to an interview are higher.

"I live in a large regional centre about 500km away from Brisbane, and there, I am already paying about 9% to 10% more for electricity and about 5% more in fuel every week."

Mr Lawson said the higher cost of living in regional areas made it harder for unemployed people to find jobs, as they had more trouble affording things like haircuts, presentable clothes and travel to and from a job.

The inquiry was expected to report its findings next year.

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