Increased support for utility bill struggle, new Bunbury jobs created

Sep 20, 2019

Western Australia’s second Hardship Utility Grant Scheme (HUGS) Service Centre will be officially opened in Bunbury by Minister for Community Services, Simone McGurk MLA on Friday 20 September.

The commissioning of the second HUGS Service Centre comes just one year after the first was opened in the metropolitan area, with the over-the-phone service assessing nearly 5,000 applications from people struggling to pay their utility bills in its first year.

The HUGS Service Centres are operated by Anglicare WA for the Financial Counselling Network, a partnership of 14 organisations, jointly lead by Anglicare WA and UnitingCare West, working to reduce the drivers and impacts of financial hardship.

In its first year of service, HUGS was limited to providing assessments for only non-concessional customers requesting the one-off grant; the expanded service will now assess all applications for the one-off payment, including those on age and disability pensions.

Anglicare WA CEO Mark Glasson said the addition of the Bunbury Service Centre would ensure many more Western Australians remained connected to essential utility services

“We anticipate a 300 percent increase in the number of people who can now be considered for financial assistance, with the expanded HUGS service expected to assess 20,000 applicants annually,” explained Mr Glasson.

“More importantly this means 20,000 Western Australians will also have access to other support services where identified by our Financial Support Workers, which will make an incredible difference to many households doing it tough.”

“They might be connected with financial counselling or food donations, or it could be more complex such as family relationship and mental health services, as we know that when people are in financial stress it impacts on their general wellbeing too.”

UnitingCare West CEO Amanda Hunt said the welcome expansion of the HUGS service into the South West was funded by the State Government through the Department of Communities.

“A number of the Financial Support Workers will specialise in ‘energy coaching’ to provide a greater scope of support for people who are experiencing higher than expected energy usage. A dedicated financial counsellor will also be available at both the Metropolitan and Bunbury Service Centres.”

Financial Counselling Network Principal Officer Celia Dufall said locating the new HUGS Service Centre in Bunbury has also created meaningful work within the community for local people experiencing barriers to employment.

“We have replicated the innovative recruitment process from the metropolitan HUGS Service Centre, by working with local job providers to identify suitable candidates for the Bunbury team and provide employment to 13 people who had been struggling to find work,” said Ms Dufall.

“This recruitment process has enabled the creation of a team whose life experiences ensure they are best placed to support those in need of this state-wide telephone service.”

The Bunbury HUGS Service Centre will be co-located within Anglicare WA’s newly opened facility at 67 Spencer Street, Bunbury.

The over-the-phone service operates from 7am-7pm Monday to Friday, with all applicants referred for HUGS assessment by their utility provider.

[ENDS]

The Financial Counselling Network partners are Anglicare WA, UnitingCare West, Blue Sky Community Group, City of Cockburn, Communicare, Finucare, Foothills Information and Referral Service, Gosnells Community Legal Centre, Midlas, Mission Australia, The Spiers Centre, Red Cross, South Care and Sussex Street Community Law Service.

Event Details [media are invited to attend]:

Time: 1pm – 2pm
Date: Friday 20 September 2019
Address: 
Anglicare WA, 67 Spencer Street, Bunbury

Presenters (available for post-event interview):

  • Minister for Communities, Hon. Simone McGurk MLA
  • Anglicare WA CEO, Mark Glasson
  • Financial Counselling Network Principal Officer, Celia Dufall
  • Anglicare WA Regional Manager South, Lisa Whittaker

There will be photo/vision opportunities for media, including a tour of the new facility.

Media Contact Details
Emma-Jane Morcombe: Anglicare WA: media@anglicarewa.org.au 
(Emma-Jane will be attending the opening in Bunbury)

John Cooke, UnitingCare West: 0433 679 780, john.cooke@unitingcarewest.org.au

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