Many older people living on pensions or low incomes can find themselves in financial hardship. Financial counsellors can provide free advice and help you access available support.

By Kay Dilger, Head of Financial Wellbeing, SECL

Angelina*, 67, had recently retired and was adjusting to living on the Age Pension. She thought she had her finances under control until she received power bills totalling $1,650.

Feeling anxious about whether her gas and electricity would be cut off, she contacted her utility company.

Angelina, who migrated from Italy in the early 2000s, could hold a conversation in English but needed an interpreter for more complex financial discussions. However, the company was not able to help her understand what had happened or offer support and did not provide an interpreter when requested.

Luckily, she came across the phone number for financial counselling on her bank statement.

Through an interpreter, the financial counsellor was able to understand Angelina’s problem and advocate for her, discovering the large bills were due to a delay with the company issuing the bills.

The counsellor reduced the bills by around $300 by ensuring concessions were applied, and helped Angelina to apply for the $250 Power Saving Bonus and Utility Relief Grant, which covered almost the entire cost of the bills.

For peace of mind, she set up fortnightly payments directly from her pension so her gas and electricity bills would always be paid on time.

If you are struggling with your bills or debts, you are not alone. Anyone can experience financial hardship, often triggered by events outside our control like job loss or illness.

But people often find it hard to talk about money or share the struggle of living on low incomes.

Cultural and family expectations around money and financial support can also make navigating money conversations difficult.

It is important to talk about it and seek support.

If you are having difficulty, you can get free help from a financial counsellor. Financial counsellors are not financial planners or advisers.

They work with people experiencing financial hardship to help them understand their rights and options, and advocate on their behalf where needed.

Financial counselling is free and confidential. Access to free independent interpreters is available.

Right now, many people are concerned about cost-of-living pressures with what seems like weekly price rises at the supermarket and increasing utility costs.

Here’s a few things to try:

  • Join with others to buy in bulk and share cost savings on essential items.
  • Some businesses offer discounts to Seniors Card holders. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Take advantage of concessions and grants for eligible concession card holders, including discounts for utility bills, the Utility Relief Grant Scheme and council rates concession.
  • Set up a fortnightly payment plan for utilities. Check your rights in the Payment Difficulty Framework, offer what you can afford and tell your supplier you are in hardship.

If you can’t come to an agreement of what to pay, you can make a complaint through the Energy & Water Ombudsman (EWOV) 1800 500 509. An Easy English Guide and in-language information is available. You have the right to ask for an interpreter.

Anyone in financial hardship who needs support can find a local financial counsellor through the National Debt Helpline 1800 007 007. The latest guide to Victorian Concessions can be found here on the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing website.

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

$250 Power Saving Bonus

ECCV’s multicultural outreach team is available to help people apply for the current round of the state government’s $250 Power Saving Bonus, which closes on 23 March. We encourage you to apply now to avoid missing out.

Our team can assist in Arabic, English, Hindi, Italian, Somali and Turkish as well as a wide range of additional languages by engaging TIS National.

The Power Saving Bonus aims to help people with the cost of power bills, and to encourage people to compare energy offers and save money.

The next round of the Bonus opens soon. If you have already claimed this round, you will be eligible again on 24 March.

To find out more about how we can assist, click here to visit our website

This article was published in the
Summer 2023 edition of Golden Years.