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Dec 19, 2023

West Australian families are facing one of their toughest Christmas seasons, with a record number of people seeking emergency relief, food support and help to pay utility bills as cost of living pressures bite. 

Financial Wellbeing Collective has experienced surging demand for emergency relief with 1733 calls to the Emergency Relief and Food Access Service in the first two weeks of December – a 52% increase on the same time last year. 

The Emergency Relief and Food Access Service and Hardship Utility Grant Scheme (HUGS) Service Centre fielded more than 7200 calls in November, highlighting the gravity of families battling to pay utility bills and cost of living pressures. 

A record 3761 sought emergency relief in November – 700 more than the same time last year. 

In addition, 3447 calls were received about hardship utility grants – the highest number of calls ever taken by the HUGS Service Centre – and an increase of 66% compared to November last year. 

The emergency relief service, delivered by Anglicare WA on behalf of the Financial Wellbeing Collective, supports people facing financial hardship by connecting them with local emergency relief providers for food hampers or vouchers, bill payment support and other referral pathways. 

Anglicare WA Chief Executive Officer Mark Glasson said more West Australians than ever were reaching out for help to source essentials like food and pay bills and transport. 

“More and more West Australians are doing it tough this Christmas and demand for our services is at an all-time high,” Mr Glasson said. 

“This uptick in demand is evidenced by a colossal increase in the number of calls we are receiving from people desperate for help and financial reprieve so they can buy Christmas presents and get Christmas lunch on the table. 

“We have seen huge rent rises, ultra-low vacancy rates, 13 interest rate hikes since May last year, and an incredible upsurge in the cost of everyday expenses like groceries and utility bills. 

“West Australians are hurting, stretching themselves beyond their limits to keep a roof over their heads and make ends meet.” 

Mr Glasson urged the community to wind back spending this Christmas. 

“If you’re already not sure about how you’re going to get by, now is not the time for a new bike or a PlayStation,” he said. 

“Buy-now, pay-later schemes, payday lenders and extra credit cards might seem like a quick fix, especially around Christmas, but these measures can be a recipe for disaster. 

“Now is the time to be thinking about personal connection at Christmas time rather than expensive gifts.” 

Mr Glasson said Anglicare WA was bracing for further increases in demand for its services in the new year and urged anyone struggling financially to reach out for help early. 

“If you’re in financial stress, don’t make it worse just because it’s Christmas time. Instead, reach out for help because it’s readily available and the earlier you seek help the better. 

“Free financial counselling and financial wellbeing services are available to anyone in debt in WA and are available across Perth and in regional areas.” 

Anyone experiencing financial difficulty can call the Financial Wellbeing Collective Helpline on 1800 932 050 or access immediate assistance by calling the Emergency Relief and Food Access Service on 1800 979 777. 

The Financial Wellbeing Collective is a collaboration of not-for-profit community service organisations and local government that provides a range of integrated and person-centred services, with the aim of reducing financial hardship in WA. Services include financial counselling, emergency relief and food access, utility grant assistance, energy coaching and community education. 

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