Complaints over ASIC late fees prompt calls for government bodies to consider mental health of SME owners

A small business mental health advocate is calling on government bodies to keep the wellbeing of small business owners front of mind when formulating policies, after a number of SMEs complained to SmartCompany last week over lack of clemency from ASIC on late fees for annual review invoices.

Council of Small Business Australia (COSBOA) mental health ambassador and founder of Billie Goat Soap, Leanne Faulkner, says she believes SME owners’ mental wellbeing “is not considered” by government bodies or big business.

Faulkner’s concern comes in the wake of several small business owners voicing their concerns about the Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s (ASIC) handling of late fees.

Business owner Dennis Rutzou told SmartCompany last week he had paid his annual review invoice on time for nearly 50 years, but a letter lost in the post meant he missed the due date in 2016, and his requests for leniency fell on deaf ears.

Read more: Meet the 2015 small business champion who wants to put mental health on the national agenda

Faulkner says that more should be done by government agencies to consider the wellbeing of business owners trying to do the right thing.

“I don’t think it’s on the agenda at all for most government bodies and the big end of town, despite the issue being quite prevalent,” Faulkner says.

“Just look at the payment times inquiry into the banks. It took repeated action from Kate Carnell to have them sit up and start to think about their behaviour.”

While Faulkner understands there’s a fine line between untrustworthy business owners “rorting the system” and genuine calls for clemency, she believes the bodies like ASIC should try to see these issues from the business owner’s perspective.

“I understand the need to keep the wheels turning, and there’s always going to be instances of someone not playing by the rules, but I’d hope fundamentally we’re all coming from a good place and everyone’s doing the best they can do,” Faulkner says.

“At the very least ASIC and other government bodies should have a conversation with the business owner, and try to understand what’s going on for them.”

“It’s too easy to think a business name or an ABN has multiple people behind it, but that could just be one person, or less than four.”

“At the very core, we’re just people.”

Policies require “human connection”

With approximately 96% of businesses in Australia considered small to medium enterprises, Faulkner says it’s an imperative that big businesses and government departments acknowledge they have a role to play in the state of SMEs’ mental health.

“The focus has to shift to ‘how can we help this sector to survive, thrive, and grow given they’re our biggest customer?’” Faulkner says.

“We have to be well enough to go to work every day, and it blows me away the big end of town doesn’t see that.”

As a solution, Faulkner encourages policies from big businesses and government bodies that “accommodate human connection on every level”.

“They need to know what small business owners need from them, and understand how their policies and procedures affect us,” she says.

Previously, Faulkner has worked with the Australian Taxation Office to help it connect with business owners experiencing mental health issues, allowing them to defer payments or enter payment plans if they’re experiencing issues.

Faulkner praises the work done by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and COSBOA, believing small business needs more representation as a group.

For SME owners wanting to keep on top of their mental wellbeing, Faulkner advises to be aware of the “red flags”, and not to be afraid to ask for help.

“Business owners need to be personally aware of what their red flags may be and how they manifest themselves,” she says.

“They might be physically manifested such as being unable to sleep, or a disconnection from family or friends or they could be psychological, such as your work becoming a 24/7 obsession.”

“SME owners should be brave enough to ask for help when they need it. For immediate help, call Lifeline on 13 11 4, or get in touch with Beyond Blue.”

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5 years ago

Thanks, Dominic … this is a positive start.
Breath of fresh air hearing someone think of SME owners as humans instead of targets for abuse of power by big business and government.
Props to Leanne Faulkner – let us know how we can help you.

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