18 January, 2016

Case Study - Jenny*

In late 2015, Jenny* contacted the Affordable SA Helpline (1800 025 539) at the recommendation of her energy provider. Jenny moved back to Adelaide 5 years ago from New Zealand since her son was ill. Since moving back, she was unable to find a job which allowed her to care for her son and was placed on a Carer’s Payment from Centrelink. Due to various factors, such as the drastic difference in electricity prices in South Australia, she was unable to make payments on her electricity bill and was therefore disconnected.

The disconnection occurred 4 months prior to her call and she has been living without gas and electricity since.

Jenny is an extremely resourceful person and has been able to cook and wash without gas and electricity for the past 4 months. When asked how she is managing to wash her clothes without a washing machine, Jenny stated that she fills a large barrel with water and powder, places her white clothing into the makeshift machine, places the barrel in the back of her car and drives around running her errands. She then swaps the whites for coloured clothing, and rolls the barrel down the street. ‘The entire neighbourhood knows who I am and I’ve made heaps of friends this way’ Jenny said.

Although this method of washing might be effective, it is not efficient and due to her son being moved back into her house, she needs electricity to run the medical machinery needed to keep her son alive.

When asked how she managed to cook her meals, she stated that she used an open fire pit in the backyard. Although this method worked for a few months, the fire department and local police stopped and fined Jenny as she was causing a fire hazard.

The financial counsellor that she was placed with through calling The Affordable SA helpline was able to get Jenny a $400 EEPS (emergency electricity payment scheme) grant and contacted the energy provider to have Jenny’s electricity and gas reconnected. Jenny is now on an affordable payment plan through Centapay where she need not worry about her next bill or where she will find the money to pay any future electricity and gas bills.

(*names have been changed)

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6 January, 2016

Getting off to a good financial start in 2016

Christmas is over and the starter’s gun for the New Year has already sounded. This time of year sees many of us dealing with extra debt that the season has added to our financial load and that can leave us feeling anxious about what to do when the extra bills start rolling in.

The Financial Counselling Helpline on 1800 007 007 is a free and confidential service that can help start your new year on the right financial foot. They analyse and assess your financial situation and give you ways of dealing with a range of issues including credit and debt. They work with you to develop a plan to improve your financial situation.

The Helpline team have kindly offered their following Top Ten Tips to help get you started in finding your financial footing in 2016.

1. It is worth investing some time and effort in planning and assessing your situation. Planning is cheap but it is an effective way of obtaining some control over your financial situation. Understanding what income or money you have coming in against expenditures, what money you need to spend, is a good start. Keeping track of these essentials is also a good way to identify savings you can make or money that can be better used. If your expenditures are more than your income then something needs to change.

2. Reduce your credit card Debt. Long term credit card debt impacts on the money you have now and in the future. Over time you may end up paying much more than you need. Planning to pay off debt as early as possible or finding ways to consistently make payments reduces your overall expenditure.

3. Payment Options. You may be able to pay back debt or larger bills over smaller, more frequent payments using monthly or even weekly instalments. Regular small payments rather than one large payment for such things as insurance, utilities or other regular bills can also help you manage your income and expenditure by smoothing out the financial highs and lows over the year.

4. Plan for seasonal expenditure. Start planning for Christmas and holiday expenditure now. Starting a savings account for special events or incorporating these expenses as part of your yearly budget helps make them achievable.

5. Utilities. Make sure that you are on the best plan for your usage or if you are able to access any discounts or concessions for utilities such as electricity, water and gas. Knowing your usage and understanding the charges can help you in making an informed choice of provider or how best to control usage. Heating and cooling can be expensive and the very young and elderly prone to health issues in extreme conditions and in some cases have access to concessions.

6. Being technologically mobile has become a convenient part of connecting with our work, support networks and community. Mobile telephones and tablets using internet and data contracts can be surprisingly expensive if you step outside of the policy limits. Get to know your usage and understand the contracts you are signing. Explore the options of contract vs prepaid particularly in regards to expensive excess data usage. It is better to have slower access than long lasting debt.

7. Stay in touch with the Affordable SA App and explore the Programs and regular articles. This can help save you money by indicating the programs that can best help you and provide information about the latest assistance programs and advice.

8. Hardship. If you are experiencing difficulties meeting regular Utilities bills you can approach a provider and explore the many options available in meeting your payments. If you cannot agree on a compromise or a way forward contact the Financial Counselling Helpline on 1800 007 007.

9. Try and work on stress levels and fitness. Keeping healthy helps you deal with stress. Walking and general exercise is a cheap way to stay healthy and de-stress from the pressures of work.

10. Remember, if you need help ask for it. Many people experience some form of financial hardship at some point in their life. The 1800 007 007 Financial Counselling Helpline is there to offer support and help get you back on track. They are non-judgemental and experienced in dealing with the many scenarios and situations and want to help

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22 December, 2015

Three tips for managing loneliness this Christmas

Christmas is a time to connect with our loved ones and celebrate the gift of giving. But for many people it can feel the opposite. Being separated from family and loved ones – either due to work, loss, or conflict – can make Christmas a time of unhappiness and loneliness.We might feel disconnected from others, as though nobody really understands us, listens to us, or values our company.

The holidays can be a difficult time if we are feeling like this and don’t have supportive people in our lives. But there are simple strategies you can use to help manage feelings of loneliness.

Here are some ideas to get you started this holiday season.

Think differently about feelings of loneliness. Like all negative emotions, loneliness is an important and valid part of human experience. Loneliness tells us that we crave connection. It comes from a part of ourselves that wants to reach out to others. If we never felt lonely, we might never recognise just how important meaningful relationships are to us.So a good first step in managing feelings of loneliness is to think differently about how we see them. Rather than viewing these feelings negatively and being hard on ourselves, we can choose to see loneliness as coming from a healthy part of us that is motivated to connect with others. Reframing loneliness in this way can help us feel better about ourselves and more positive about seeking out meaningful relationships.

Reconnect with yourself. If we find it hard to connect with others, or genuinely don’t have many social opportunities, then a good place to start is to try connecting with ourselves first. When we’re taking good care of ourselves, we are more likely to be positive, and feelings of loneliness may have less power to get us down.There’s no right or wrong way to do this. A great starting point is to try brainstorming some ideas for activities that make us feel good and then start doing them.Some suggestions are writing down your thoughts in a journal, going for a walk, spending time in nature or simply having a cup of tea in a beautiful cup. Try planning one nice activity for yourself every day and keep a record of how it made you feel. If you build some momentum with these activities before the holidays arrive you might find you are able to coast a bit easier through those moments when you are feeling lonely.

Reach out to others. Feeling lonely during the holidays is never easy, and reaching out to others can often seem difficult and scary. But it’s important to talk to people in your life at this time of year and let them know how you’re feeling.You can do this in whatever way makes you feel comfortable. It might be as simple as a text message or a phone call.

Or you might want to catch up with your family or a friend one-on-one. You can also jump online and connect with an online community for support. The SANE Forums are operating over the holiday period and are a great way to connect with others living with or caring for a loved one with mental illness.

You can even join the virtual Christmas Feast, a social gathering from 6pm AEDT on Christmas Day.There are also a number of great online and telephone services such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline that are available if you need someone to talk to. And if you are struggling with persistent sadness and loneliness, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help from a GP, psychologist or counsellor.

** The Salvation Army and The Australian Psychological Society’s (SA Branch) launched 'SalvoPsych’, a project to help marginalised and disadvantaged people receive psychological assessment and intervention, as well as counselling and other support, in addition to that already offered by the Salvos. - You can learn about SalvoPsych in The Affordable SA App**

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26 November, 2015

Rental affordability index: Adelaide's outer northern suburbs named most affordable but many families struggling

Adelaide's outer northern suburbs have been named the city's most affordable for renters as South Australia's low-income families battle high rents, a national index has revealed. The Rental Affordability Index described Sydney as the most unaffordable city for renters but noted low-income earners were "in an absolutely dire situation" across the country.

Adelaide's most affordable postcodes:

5113 — Davoren Park

5117 — Angle Vale

5118 — Gawler

5112 — Elizabeth

5233 — Forreston, Gumeracha

South Australia, according to the report by not-for-profit groups and economic analysts, is ranked the second least affordable state to rent.

Low-income families in New South Wales spend about 65 per cent of their pay on rent, while families in South Australia spend 59 per cent of their income on accommodation. The report also found rental affordability for single householders was on par with Sydney. Households are generally considered to be experiencing housing stress if more than 30 per cent of the household income is required to pay rent. The report showed the lowest-income 40 per cent of Australian households were "locked out of rental affordability". Shelter SA's Dr Alice Clark said the report revealed there was a huge level of housing stress across the state. "Adelaide is not one of the most affordable city. We hear so much about Sydney and Melbourne but when we look at this, low-income households, we see Adelaide is not doing that well either," she said. She said there was often talk about mortgage stress but the report highlighted families were experiencing "severely unaffordable rent". "If you are on Newstart for example, getting about $500 a fortnight, even if you were able to find a unit at about $130 a week that would be $260 a fortnight and getting up to the 60 per cent [income] mark," she said.

Adelaide's least affordable postcodes:

5232 — Cudlee Creek

5154 — Aldgate

5243 — Oakbank

5152 — Cleland

5144 — Carey Gully

She said there was a critical need for housing policies to be reviewed at a federal level. That sentiment was echoed by National Shelter's Adrian Pisarski who said reforms were needed to create affordable housing. "We really need to link this up with the infrastructure reforms that are being considered, tax reforms that are being considered, there needs to be a fit for government purpose incentive, because the solution will be in attracting large scale, private finance, into an affordable housing system," he said.

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4 November, 2015

Debt solution companies vs financial counsellors

With extremely high levels of household debt at the moment, many Australians are currently struggling to keep up with their repayments.

This runaway debt is catching up to more of us, with the Australian Financial Authority this week revealing that total personal insolvencies increased 0.6 per cent in the September quarter 2015 compared to September quarter 2014.

This was a second consecutive rise, with personal insolvencies in June quarter 2015 rising 0.9 per cent compared to the same quarter last year.

The new statistics also revealed that the number of debt agreements in the September quarter increased by 2.4 per cent compared to last year while bankruptcies fell by 0.1 per cent and personal insolvency agreements fell 33.3 per cent.

With this rise in the number of insolvencies and debt agreements, it’s likely that many Australians have sought out the services of debt solution companies. In desperate times of overwhelming debt, the advertised promises of these firms to “solve all of your finance problems” can be quite tempting.

But is there a catch?

Let’s take a look at these companies and what they do.

What are debt solution companies?

Debt solution companies are firms that people pay to manage their personal debt problems. These groups usually offer to do this through:

Debt consolidation and

Debt agreements

Debt consolidation involves repackaging all debts into one loan that may or may not have different fees and interest rates. Companies that offer debt consolidation have to be licensed with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

These groups can also set up debt agreements with creditors on your behalf when you cannot pay everything you owe but want to avoid going bankrupt. For a fee, the debt solution company can act as administrator to organise a debt agreement proposal based on what you can afford to pay. You pay creditors back the settled amount over a set period of time.

Potential dangers

Since debt solution companies are run for profit, sometimes it is worth considering whether they are there to help or to take advantage of people in desperate situations. Their fees can set you back even further and their ‘solutions’ can actually hurt you more.

For instance, the new loan they consolidate your debt into might have a higher interest rate, costs or be longer term. When the loan is longer term, bear in mind that although your repayments and interest rate may be lower, you’re paying more in the long run though fees and interest over the years. Also, if they’re consolidating your unsecured debt (e.g. credit cards) into a secured loan (your mortgage), you could be putting your home on the line. The mortgage might become even harder to pay off, thus putting your home more at risk.

The adverts for these debt solution companies can often downplay these serious consequences. It’s important to put your emotions aside and be rationale when considering signing up with these companies.

Free Financial counselling

As opposed to debt solution companies which strive to generate profits for shareholders, the number one priority of free financial counselling is to help those in need. Financial counselling can offer independent and confidential financial advice to improve your financial situation in a variety of ways. This can include helping you do up a budget, seeing if you’re eligible for government assistance or referring you to other social help services if they recognise a wider problem (e.g. gambling help, drug rehab, mental health counselling).

Financial counsellors can do for free what many businesses might charge you for. Instead of directing you towards the most desperate measures, they can help you to consider everything you can do to manage your debt in the most efficient way possible.

If you need debt help, you can call the financial counselling hotline on 1800 007 007 from 9:30am to 8:00pm, Monday to Thursday & 9:30am - 4:30pm on Fridays.

**Article published at http://www.canstar.com.au/balance-transfers/debt-solution-companies-vs-financial-counsellors/ retrieved 4/11/15****

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3 September, 2015

South Australians can now apply online for new cost of living concession

Minister Zoe Bettison

Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion

News Release Thursday, 2 June, 2015

South Australians can now apply online for new cost of living concession. More than 200,000 eligible South Australian households can now apply online for the State Government’s new cost of living concession of up to $200.

The concession, that replaces the Federal Government’s defunct council rate rebate, has also been expanded to tenants and self-funded retirees with a federal health care card. Communities and Social Inclusion Minister Zoe Bettison said the easy to access payment provides support to South Australians struggling with utility and other costs.

“South Australian pensioners, retirees and low income earners will now receive up to $200 annually through this concession toward cost of living expenses,” Ms Bettison said.

“This payment responds to the Federal Government’s abolition of the $190 council rate concession which left many South Australian families under undue financial pressure.”

Ms Bettison said the new concession also provides greater flexibility for recipients.

“The State Government is putting up to $200 into the hands of South Australians for energy, water or council rate costs – or anything else they need to support themselves and their families.”

Applications can be made online at www.sa.gov.au/concessions/costofliving

Or call the Concessions Hotline on 1800 307 758.

Forms can be downloaded and posted to:

Concessions and Support Services Cost of Living Concession Reply Paid 84782 Adelaide SA 5001

For information on other State Government concessions visit www.sa.gov.au/concessions

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