January can prove to be a difficult time for renters, bookended by Christmas on one side and the return to school on the other.
Bendigo real estate agents say there is generally an increase in the number of people going into arrears with their rent at this time of year, compared to other periods.
PRDnationwide Bendigo rental department manager Eboni Budde said it was likely a combination of factors that led to more people finding themselves in difficulty.
Miss Budde said workers forced to take unpaid leave while businesses shut down over the holiday period could put a strain on finances, as could the expenses associated with Christmas.
Back to school expenses could also play a part, she said, although this had not yet been seen this year.
James Cassar, property manager and business development manager with Luke Goggin Real Estate, also said people falling into rental arrears was more common at this time of year.
Mr Cassar too said people often went into hardship to be able to celebrate the holidays, then found themselves struggling to pay the rent.
Domain’s latest quarterly rental report shows renters in Bendigo have also faced an increase in rent over the past year, with the median rent increasing by 6.7 per cent to $320 per week in the year to December 2018.
Mr Cassar said many people also tended to prioritise other bills, such as energy and credit cards, over their rent when they found themselves tight on money.
Mr Cassar advised such people to ensure rent was their priority. He said some agents and landlords were sympathetic to people in such situations and would work out repayment plans, but it was only an option.
Paying rent kept a roof over the head, Mr Cassar said, and it was more difficult to negotiate paying back arrears.
He instead advised it was often easier to work out payment plans with utilities companies and banks.
Ms Budde also advised those in financial difficulty to contact a support service, which could help with meeting rent and financial counselling, to avoid such problems in the future.
Tenants Victoria says people receiving Centrelink can have their rent deducted and paid automatically through a service called Centrepay.
How to get ahead?
Carol Gledhill wishes she’d heard about Saver Plus years ago.
A single mum, she found the program so useful for her finances that she now coordinates it in Bendigo.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence program aims to help people on lower incomes improve their financial management skills, and begin to save.
Participants set a goal to save towards an education item over a 10 month period. They then complete financial literacy workshops, draw up a budget and look at strategies for saving.
It’s all about people learning to make what they earn stretch further.
At the end of the 10 months their savings are matched up to $500.
From her own experience Ms Gledhill knows people are forced to juggle their finances, especially when unexpected or large costs come up.
We’re not really taught how to manage our finances. So we don’t set ourselves a budget, we are just trying to make ends meet week to week.Carol Gledhill
“I’ve always been a single mum on a lower income. It is very stressful particularly when there's unexpected expenses come along,” she said.
“We get very good at juggling our money, so taking from what we perhaps would be putting towards our groceries.”
Ms Gledhill believes that learning to save is the key to getting ahead financially.
“We’re not really taught how to manage our finances, so we don’t set ourselves a budget, we are just trying to make ends meet week to week,” Ms Gledhill said.
“If you don’t have a budget it’s really quite difficult to know where your money going and what you’re spending.”
Many of the participants in the program are single mums. They’re faced with a raft of expenses, especially in January when the school year begins so shortly after the cost of Christmas.
Ivana Dunstone recently completed the Saver Plus program.
Her eldest daughter Elyce was beginning school, and Ms Dunstone was keen to save some money for her education.
As a customer service worker in a bank, Ms Dunstone was fairly familiar with most of the financial concepts discussed. But she discovered there were many savings she could make using her low income healthcare card.
Since then she’s been able to save a sum specifically for her daughters’ schooling.
Previously her savings were in one account, which meant she was losing track of what was intended for what.
Ms Dunstone is glad she made the savings. Elyce’s booklist for Grade 1 recently came in at more than $100, a big hit for a weekly budget.
“It’s a really good program, I enjoyed it,” Ms Dunstone said.
“Carol’s fantastic. She’s a good facilitator. There was no judgement at her end about anybody’s life circumstance.”
More information about Saver Plus at bit.ly/2AHVteW.
Those in need of free financial counselling can call 1800 007 007.
People on low incomes may be eligible for concessions; information at services.dhhs.vic.gov.au.
More information available at tuv.org.au and housing.vic.gov.au.
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