3 Dec 2020

Calls to budgeting helpline more than double and expected to rise

6:12 am on 3 December 2020

As job losses mount and Covid-19 support schemes wind down, budgeting services say there is no let up in the number of people seeking help.

Closeup of person calculating or paying bills. Woman using smartphone. Online payment concept. Cropped view.

Photo: 123RF

Immediately after the first lockdown in March, there was no real surge in people wanting advice on managing debt or getting by on a lower income.

But figures from the Money Talks budgeting helpline show in the months since, more and more people have found themselves in increasingly desperate situations.

At the peak, in July, it heard from just over 1900 people - more than double the same month a year earlier.

In October the figure was about 1800.

Money Talks team coordinator Clare Wilson said they weren't expecting that demand to drop off any time soon.

"And that's because those subsidies are ending, different businesses, while they thought they could keep people employed are now reducing their hours.

"We expect the volume [of calls] to continue to rise."

Many of the people getting in touch had never needed help before, Wilson said.

"We get a lot of people calling us because they need help with their KiwiSaver hardship applications, applications for housing, general budgeting, how to juggle their payments - so sometimes you have to rob Peter to pay Paul, but that doesn't always work."

Rachel was an essential worker during the first Covid-19 lockdown but a little over a month ago, she was made redundant.

"I was like, okay, I'm going to be made redundant, all I'll have is my annual leave and what was paid out, and I need to know how long that will last and how long I can make it last."

Anxious about her finances, Rachel went to Tāmaki Budgeting, in Auckland's Glen Innes, for help.

"I've put aside all that I'll need for the bills for the next coming weeks, I've actually stocked up my cupboards, so I'm okay with that side of things.

"Coming up to Christmas it's getting complicated, but it's manageable at the moment."

Mum-of-four Viona said things got really tough for her family when her husband lost his construction job during the first lockdown.

Just before the pandemic hit, she'd decided to stop working, so she could spend more time caring for her youngest son, who has a disability.

"We went to Work and Income, got ourselves on the unemployment benefit, and from there on, we were really struggling to pay our rent, plus the bills that we were paying."

While her husband continues looking for a job, at first, Viona said she was reluctant to ask for help from a budgeting service.

"I don't like asking for help, I like helping people," she said.

"But when you're in need and you're not on your own, you've got children and a family to provide for, I guess you just have to put you aside and just do what's best for your family."

Tāmaki Budgeting manager Alyson de Marco said many whānau will be under pressure with Christmas coming up.

"When you're a parent, there are the expectations of the children and you don't want to disappoint, there are expectations from the family and you don't want to disappoint them.

"For the caregiver of the family, there can be such incredible stress, but it's all things that we can help people through."

De Marco said people should not be afraid to seek help, and she was adamant no financial challenge was insurmountable.

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