ASBFEO welcomes funding free mental health and financial counselling

The Federal government has announced that it is allocating $15 million in funding for free mental health and financial counselling support for small businesses in the Federal Budget.

Small Business Minister Julie Collins stated that $10.9 million in extra funding will be allocated for the New Access for Small Business Owners program operated by Beyond Blue and the extra $4 million for the Small Business Debt Hotline operated by Financial Counselling Australia.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, welcomed the funding announcement.

“For small- and family-business owners, their business is not just their livelihood but a fundamental part of their life,” Billson said. “Their identities are interwoven into their business and the stakes are so much higher than just a job. Many people have invested a lifetime, and in some cases their family home, into building up their business, which amplifies the emotional challenges. It is vital small business owners have support and know that help is available if they need it.”

Beyond Blue’s New Access for Small Business Owners program offers free one-on-one telehealth sessions with specially trained mental health coaches providing advice on strategies for managing stress. And the Small Business Debt Helpline provides financial counselling support, particularly for small-business owners who have loans secured against the family home and are uncertain about their future.

“The success of the New Access for Small Business Owners program is built on it being delivered by coaches who have experience in small business,” Billson said. “Being able to speak to someone who understands the mental load of running a small business makes a big difference. For small-business owners the stakes can be incredibly high and losing the business often means also losing the home.”

Billson said that while he celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit that people have in starting a small business, they still need support as their resilience is being tested to their limit.

“Small- and family-business owners are literally exhausted. There has been no reprieve from the rolling natural disasters such as floods, bushfires and drought and the lingering effects from COVID-19 and the various lockdowns and restrictions,” Billson said. “Small businesses are struggling to make rosters work and keep doors open due to labour and skills shortages; grappling with supply troubles that means critical inputs, goods and services are not always available; adjusting to higher inflation then many have experienced; rising interest rates; and on edge about cyber security fears.

“Many small businesses are not making a profit and eating into whatever reserves and personal resources they have to pay their bills and service business debts,” he added. “Understandably this has taken a toll on the bottom line and wellbeing.”