Financial helpline counsellors say they are on track to receive a record number of calls from older Australians struggling in poverty.
National Debt Helpline financial counsellor Greg, who has been at the call centre for 14 years, said most calls related to older Australians unable to pay rent or meet mortgage repayments. “The phones just never stop now,” he told the ABC website. “You put the phone down, you pick the phone up again.”
The Poverty in Australia 2018 report, published yesterday by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) in partnership with the University of New South Wales, said housing status was the critical factor that determined whether older people lived in poverty.
It found that 43 per cent of tenants aged 65 years and over lived in poverty, compared with just 12 per cent of all older people.
It found Australia had the 14th highest poverty rate among 34 OECD countries and was in a group of English-speaking wealthy nations with above-average poverty levels.
The Salvation Army’s financial counselling service, Moneycare, reported a similar spike in calls from Australians aged 55 and over seeking help to deal with “severe debt” – debt that it estimates is more than six times a person’s annual disposable income.
“The trigger may be someone who can’t afford hot water, that’s when they connect with us,” financial counsellor Kristen Hartnett told abc.net.au.
“For someone else it might be legal action, or someone says they can’t afford the next bill.
“People are trying to do the best they can, but we want them to connect with us so that we can see what they can do to take some of that stress off them.”
She said the number of callers to Moneycare had increased by 37 per cent in the past 10 years.
“I think it’s the change in circumstances,” Ms Hartnett said.
“People hit retirement, and they’re still carrying heavy debt with mortgages and credit cards.”
Commsec economist Ryan Felsman said that while many baby boomers had reaped the benefits of the property boom, those on lower incomes had struggled and warned that their situation was likely to get worse.
“What we’re seeing with the data is that if you’re a pensioner, really that’s the type of person that’s under pressure,” he said.
“If you’re a self-funded retiree, generally you’ve accumulated enough savings over time to live a fairly comfortable life.
“It’s mainly people on government transfers and welfare payments that are struggling in this environment.”
Australians struggling with debt should call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007007 or go to the website.
Were you able to take advantage of the property boom? Do you believe Age Pensioners should be able to rent and still enjoy a dignified lifestyle?