Salvation Army Moneycare Financial Counsellor Jillian McKinlay has seen huge changes in the quality of life of clients once they get on top of household energy bills.
The organisation has used a Switched On Communities grant to set up a 1300 telephone hotline to help South East Queensland residents understand their energy bills, access hardship programs and payment plans, and shop around for the best deals.
They have also been running education programs and one-on-one counselling sessions.
The results have been life-changing.
“This project is vital. Frankly, it keeps people housed, it keeps food on the table and medicine for people who need it,” Ms McKinlay said.
“I didn’t expect to see so many people struggling with their energy bills.
“Some of the major issues centre around people carrying large energy debts with them and shouldering it for a long period of time.
“We often find people with thousands of dollars of energy bills that they are never realistically going to pay off on a low income.”
Ms McKinlay said the Salvation Army’s strong community network ensured their Switched On Communities program had already reached a large number of people experiencing hardship.
It has also worked well in conjunction with existing programs.
“Salvation Army is ideally placed to run this (Switched On Communities) program and it works in with other programs that pick up different areas of vulnerability,” she said.
“It isn’t just energy, it is other areas of hardship that can impact on people’s ability to pay bills and the value-add of Switched On Communities has been that we are able to deliver extended financial counselling for those clients who have other financial issues like pay-day loans – that’s massive.
“It has also meant we are able to identify what other people and organisations do so it has created a more streamlined referral base, which ultimately helps everyone.”
Switched On Communities is funded by AGL in partnership with Queensland Council Of Social Service and the Queensland Government.