Working with Taupō locals who are struggling to get on top of their finances is like peeling back layers of an onion, says the Family and Financial Solutions Trust.
“When we see people it’s not unusual for them to only give you half the story to begin with,” says the Trust’s Service Manager, Anita Westley. “That’s why relationship building is such an important part of what we do. We don’t judge people, so they feel that they can trust us with their personal information.”
The Trust was established in 2008 and now works alongside over 100 people at any given time to provide holistic financial mentoring, empowering Taupō residents to become independent. Strategies and options are discussed for debt repayment. Clients then feel empowered to negotiate with creditors, and will come to a resolution, rather than ignoring the problem.
“We look at the bigger picture because there’s often other issues around money that are impacting their day-to-day finances like addiction or mental health issues. We build relationships with our clients and that’s the key for us. We need to hear their pain. We can’t start to work on their finances if they’ve got these other issues that also need to be dealt with.”
Anita says it’s when people are at the very lowest point in their lives that they tend to reach out for help. “I wish more people would come to us before they get to that point, but they try. They try to get themselves out of the hole they’re in but many just aren’t able to.”
Help For All
Almost half the Trust’s clients are solo mums caring for children but those in financial distress can range in age from late teens to those in their 80s. Anita says 60% identify as Māori and the Trust is proud to provide a culturally-safe environment for people to come forward.
Some of the situations that Anita and her colleagues deal with are heartbreaking, but no-one is ever turned away when they seek the Trust’s help. One case that has stuck with Anita was elder abuse that occurred to a woman in her late 70s.
“Her family had used her EFTPOS card and taken money. One of the things they had also been doing is charging up hire purchases in her name so she was legally responsible for that debt but she did not have the goods.
“The worst thing that happened was she had $3000 worth of driving fines recorded against her name. When I spoke to her about this, she didn’t even have a driver’s license! A family member had purchased a car in her name which makes her legally responsible for those fines. I fought tooth and nail over that one.”
People can contact Family and Financial Solutions Trust directly to ask for help or be referred from other social agencies or government departments. Since COVID, and particularly amid the current cost of living crisis, the type of client the Trust is helping has changed.
“We’ve now got working mums and dads coming to us. They had great lifestyles, and then along came COVID. We’ve got mortgage interest rates going up so again, there’s been a shift in the type of client we’re seeing in terms of age and circumstance. It’s no longer just people who are on benefits.”
Anita says more people are now walking in the door with their heads down. “They’ve never had to reach out to a social agency before. A lot of our clients don’t have any buffer. So when they were spending x amount of dollars on the groceries, now they’ve got to find more. Well, where’s that coming from?”
The Trust operates “on the smell of an oily rag” and relies on second-hand furniture and has office space at Waiora House. Most of their annual budget is spent on staff wages, printing and computer costs.
“A lot of people struggle to do the online work required for Inland Revenue, Ministry of Social Development or their bank. We allow clients to come in and print off what documents they need. Not everyone has a fancy phone or access to data. They just can’t afford to be connected to the internet.”
BayTrust has supported Family and Financial Solutions Trust for the past four years, and has just granted another $22,000 towards their 2023 operating costs. “It’s amazing and we so appreciate that,” Anita says. “We are also appreciative of all the other funding we have received from other grant providers.”
Ultimately, the work the Trust undertakes is for the benefit of young tamariki growing up in Taupō. “I worry about the children because they are our future. We want to make sure that the change we make with mum and dad passes on to the children. We want to stop that intergenerational stuff. We’re very focused on achieving positive outcomes for our families.”