Not-For-Profit Credit Counselling in Ontario
The origin of many of our Member Agencies started with the provision of the necessities of life to people in financial crisis. As early as the 1930’s, community services helped individuals and families with food, clothing and, in some instances, assisted in the purchasing of homes. From these early beginnings in meeting essentials, Credit Counselling had its start.
In the mid to late 1960’s, community groups such as the Consumers Association of Canada, social planning councils, credit grantors associations and family service organizations began working with Agencies in a sponsorship capacity. Agencies began to provide budget counselling to help families and individuals manage their own finances and acquire the skills needed to meet their needs independently.
In 1966, a Select Committee of the Ontario Legislature on Consumer Credit made recommendations which lead to the Consumer Protection Act. One purpose of the new Act was “to promote and assist existing counselling services in respect to consumer credit”. Agencies applied individually to the government for funding under this program and, by 1969, some Agencies were receiving 40% of their budget to a maximum of $5,000 from this government assistance. These Agencies decided to meet to share common concerns and goals.
The first gathering of Agencies was held at the Family Service Bureau of Brantford and Brant County and involved representatives from Brantford, London, Ottawa, Sarnia, Toronto and Windsor.
Many topics related to financial management were discussed and issues were identified, which continue to be the focus of discussion today: consumer education, standardization and operating procedures. It was soon apparent that these Agencies would benefit from continuing contact which led to the decision to form an association that would meet regularly. The Association was later named the Ontario Association of Credit Counselling Services with the acronym “OACCS”.
Joined by representatives of Kingston and Kitchener these Agencies defined the following objectives:
- To exchange information between Member services for their mutual assistance.
- To improve operating techniques and procedures of Member services.
- To assist in developing training programs for personnel.
- To assist in the organization and development of new non-profit credit counselling services.
- To develop and maintain relations with governments, co-operating Agencies and support associations.
- To co-ordinate efforts on educational projects.
A Board of Directors was formed, an Association constitution was adopted and standing committees for Membership, Public Relations, Policies and Procedures) were established.
The Early Years
In mid-1971, government responsibility for credit counselling was transferred to the Department of Social and Family Services for Ontario which was able to recover almost 50% of their costs from the federal department of National Health and Welfare under the Canada Assistance Plan. Provincial funding for Member Agencies now covered 60% of the Agencies’ costs and the other 40% came from local sources such as the United Way, local government grants, credit grantors, labour and other voluntary donations.
Over the next few years, a highly productive relationship developed between the Association and government representatives. With funding from what was renamed the Ministry of Community and Social Services (COMSOC), the Association undertook several ambitious projects in data collection and standards and training.
An Association office was opened and attention was turned to service quality, providing workshops and training for counselling staff and creating opportunities for peer consultation. A Standards and Training Committee produced a manual for Credit Counsellors, Guidelines and Standards, Interviewing Techniques and Performance Appraisal Manuals. These tools became the means of achieving consistent quality service throughout the Membership. Complementary to these materials was the work of the Standardized Forms Committee.
The Association had active committees in the late 1970’s. The Consumer Education and Public Relations Committee produced a brochure and a slide-tape presentation (funded by Consumer and Corporate Affairs – Canada) about Credit Counselling services and a budgeting form was developed for consumers. Other Committees handled funding issues and responded to proposed legislation that would affect the work of Credit Counselling. Recommendations and briefs were prepared and presented both provincially and federally to support the Association, its Members and consumers regarding proposed changes in the Bankruptcy Act.
During the 1980’s, the OACCS determined that self-regulation through Accreditation was important in preparing its members for the future. The OACCS went on to develop its unique Accreditation Program for Member Agencies. In doing so, the OACCS became the first voluntary non-profit Credit Counselling association in North America to accredit its Members. Accreditation requirements were based on service delivery standards, legal critera and family service standards and they were continually reviewed to incorporate effectiveness measures, wherever possible.
Training and education became a high priority with the conducting of educational sessions and the updating of training materials, including consumer education, public relations brochures and posters, the development of Legislation manuals and other related education and tools for Credit Counsellors. Member Agencies started to use specifically designed computer software programs to assist with their work. Computer hardware was purchased by Member Agencies with the assistance of a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Trillium also helped to fund the Association’s telephone counselling service (ACCESS) which started in 1988 to provide service by phone to Ontarians who were unable to visit a community agency to get assistance.
The first Agency Accreditation review took place in 1990. Reviews were required every five years with an interim maintenance report submitted at the midpoint. A quarterly newsletter started in 1990 as a communication vehicle to keep Members and other stakeholders updated on service delivery, board and administration issues, and to offer new ideas, techniques and resources. These newsletter publications reached across Canada, the United States and points abroad.
The 1990’s proved to be a decade full both challenges and opportunities for Credit Counselling. In March 1992, as part of wide-sweeping cut-backs by the Rae government, the Ontario became a casualty of withdrawn government funding for not-for-profit credit counselling. The OACCS and its Members worked very hard to find a solution to fill the resulting funding void. Through a combination of generous donations from creditors and support from United Ways, local municipal governments and client fees it became possible for not-for-profit Credit Counselling to continue to provide services for the public. With funding no longer available from the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the OACCS worked closely with the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations.
While OACCS Members were recognized with exemptions under the Collection Agencies Act, the OACCS proceeded to develop its own legislation to give Credit Counselling its own status and recognition. Royal assent was given on July 21, 1997 to Bill Pr82 – An Act Respecting the Ontario Association of Not-for-Profit Credit Counselling Services. This remains the legislative voice for not-for-profit Credit Counselling in Ontario.
OACCS was contracted by Industry Canada to design and develop the Insolvency Counsellor’s Qualification Course for the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Many of the OACCS credit counsellors completed the course requirements, examination and hours of practice which to enable them to provide the mandatory counselling sessions required under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to bankrupt consumers.
Collaborative partnerships continued to strengthen Member Agencies as the OACCS looked for opportunities to assist. Through working with government bodies, such as Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), financial assessments were developed to help determine the ability of individuals to pay for training. Partnerships were formed with local and national employee assistance program (EAP) providers and employers to provide credit counselling to employees in need.
The turn of the century presented new opportunities to continue to lead the way for not-for-profit credit counselling and the personal financial counselling industry in Canada.
OACCS introduced Counsellor Certification to Canada and our commitment to the profession of financial counselling grew even stronger.
OACCS set a new bar high for the required expertise in the financial counselling industry as the leading authority for financial practitioner training and education. Our Certified Credit Counsellor designation, as bestowed by OACCS to its Members, is recognized as the highest professional designation level available to not-for-profit Credit Counsellors in Canada. This designation includes the Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada designation, the BIA’s Insolvency Counsellor’s Qualification Course designation and an extensive work experience requirement. The Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada(AFCC) designation, a component of the Certified Credit Counsellor Designation program, is also available to practitioners without a requirement to be a member of OACCS.
The Canadian Association of Credit Counselling Services (CACCS) was created and built upon the legacy foundation of the OACCS – which gave birth to the not-for-profit credit counselling service sector in Canada, almost 50 years ago. OACCS became a strong affiliate of CACCS continuing to serve as the voice for not-for-profit Credit Counselling in Ontario.
Our Financial Fitness “What Shape Are You In?” video, our YouTube Financial Fitness channel and our annual benchmark research, the Financial Fitness Index, were all introduced. This led to the development and introduction of a Financial Fitness Score tool, the first of its kind, in Canada. This tool helps Canadians to determine how well they are managing their finances and provides useful information that is based on their personal fitness level. Also, in collaboration with other organizations, on-line training and education was introduced, such as the Financial Fitness Coaching and Problem Gambling Program.
From Our Beginnings to Today
What began as a disparate group of individual social services has become a unified and important group of not-for-profit Credit Counselling Agencies in Ontario.
The primary function of not-for-profit Credit Counselling services provided through our Member Agencies remains the provision of consumer credit education and money management coaching and counselling for all individuals and families in need.
Drawing on an almost 5-decade-long record of not-for-profit service, we are collectively committed to providing unparalleled financial counselling expertise and to forwarding the cause of financial literacy for all Ontarians.