10 August, 2017
Courtesy of News.com.au
A Melbourne mum says she is struggling to keep a roof over her family’s head with rising living costs pushing her closer to poverty.
Ursula, who did not disclose her last name, was whacked with a $1400 electricity bill after trying to keep herself and her young child warm during the winter.
She bought her first home while at university but her luck changed when she was in her mid-30s. She had a child but then broke up with her partner and struggled as a single parent to pay living costs. Interest rates were climbing, her partner was paying less in child support and she found it difficult to find stable employment while also being a sole parent.
She said she was living “in the worst kind of poverty” and “very much struggling to try and keep [their] home”.
She rented out her inner Melbourne home and moved to the country in the hope of saving money. But after a chilly winter in a rental home with little insulation, she was hit with a $1400 bill.
She revealed her story in a new report, Power Struggles, an investigation from RMIT University and the Victorian Council of Social Services into how rising power costs are impacting on Victorians.
Ursula’s debts continued to mount and she told researchers she had to redraw on her mortgage and use credit cards to pay for utility costs as well as mortgage repayments.
The report said she was drowning in a credit card debt of $50,000 and despite negotiating repayments and interest, she said her credit rating was “ruined”.
She also had to rely on loans from friends and family over the years just to pay for essential living costs.
“I don’t even know where I’d be living. I couldn’t afford to rent anywhere. It’s horrible for some people,” she told researchers.
She is now back in her Melbourne home, but the financial burdens are no better.
She made her home more energy efficient, but she suffers from a heart condition where she needs electric heating. She also injured her neck and struggled to complete her studies as well as work. A relative also moved in with her, which meant more electricity was used.
“I was home. I couldn’t do anything. I was like, I had a stroke … I was on the couch, so the heater was on a lot … I don’t watch TV very much but some people that took care of me would watch it. And my son and I have been home a lot more since, so we’re home on weekends when we’re not normally … he has a TV and an Xbox, so he usually runs them a lot when he’s home, especially since I’ve been sick, he’s bored,” she said.
She continues to cop high bills and her gas cost her $280 for just two months, even though the only gas appliance in the house is the stove.
“We’re just trying to pull ourselves out of [financial hardship], which is hard because my career [is] down the toilet,” she said.
She has to “go without sometimes” in order to manage her money woes and even had to restrict her son from playing the sports he wants.
The report found sole parents with a limited income were more vulnerable and found it difficult to pay bills. It also discovered there was also a lack of affordable, energy-efficient housing.
It said simply turning on the kettle caused some people anxiety.
Some families have been forced to cut back on food, restrict or entirely avoid heating or cooling and keep lights turned off. Some are even showering at local pools to save on hot water.
Mark Brewer, from Ascot Vale in Melbourne’s north west, told the Herald Sun he’s had to stop people from charging their phones at his home.
“I ask them to do it at home because I can’t afford to have the electricity going all the time,” he said.
“We’re not a poor country so why are resources so dear here comapred to everywhere else?”
The report is released as power bills increase as much as 20 per cent and $600 a year for the average customer in some states.
Origin, EnergyAustralia and AGL announced their gas and electricity prices would rise from July 1 this year.
Today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with electricity companies to discuss rising costs.
Retailers have agreed to new measures, including writing to consumers who have reached the end of a discounted plan to clearly explain other offers available.
“This will ensure that thousands of Australian families, hopefully millions of Australian families, are better informed and will then be paying less for their electricity because they will be on the plan that works best for them,” Mr Turnbull told reporters on Wednesday.