A WAITING list for financial counselling at a Bendigo service has increased to more than two months just as the region has been named a "hotspot" for those struggling with electricity and water costs.
There are 20 to 30 new enquiries a week for financial counselling, Bendigo Family and Financial Services general manager Jenny Elvey said.
"We can put some of those into emergency relief when needed but things aren't getting any easier," Ms Elvey said.
Two in five Australians looking for financial counselling were turned away, according to a Financial Counselling Australia sector survey published in December.
Ms Elvey said her service tried to triage cases and deal with the most difficult cases first.
"But everyone that presents to us has a case that is important to them and they all need to be seen," she said.
There had also been an increase in the number of people over 30 approaching the service, Ms Elvey said. Many had seen their work hours cut or had experienced illness.
"Up until now they have been quite comfortable in their living circumstances but due to these changes they are not able to manage anymore," she said.
Rental shortages, long waits for public housing, low wage growth and payday lending debts were among the issues people approaching BFFS financial counsellors faced, Ms Elvey said.
Another was rising utility bills, she said.
Greater Bendigo was among seven "particular hotspots" where vulnerable Victorian customers had been more likely to approach the Energy and Water Ombudsman about bills they could not afford.
The area was among the areas with the highest number of cases the ombudsman dealt with in the second half of 2018, a new report showed.
Of customers experiencing payment difficulties statewide, 77 per cent involved those with concession cards, the ombudsman's data showed.
"Despite these customers being eligible for appropriate concessions they're still unable to afford their energy and water bills," the report stated.
Financially vulnerable customers owed an average $3286 when they contacted the ombudsman, with 70 per cent dealing with an imminent or actual disconnection.
Around 14 per cent of people in greater Bendigo lived in poverty, according to Victorian Council of Social Service data released last November.
That included 19 per cent of people living in the Census area encompassing Eaglehawk, California Gully and Jackass Flat. The area encompassing Bendigo, North Bendigo, Long Gully and Ironbark had a 17 per cent poverty rate.
Maiden Gully had some of the lowest rates of poverty in the region, with eight percent, tying with the region covering Junortoun and Strathfieldsaye.
Meeting demand for BFFS services like emergency relief and no interest loans would require more funding, Ms Elvery said.
The financial counselling waiting list could be cut from current levels - between eight and 10 weeks - down as low as one to two weeks with money for new staff members.
"Two would be a start. If we can get clients coming through a little bit quicker there are other avenues where we could position financial counsellors," she said.
"We would like to get into the hospital, we would like to see financial counsellors in the aged care sector and in senior secondary."
Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said Labor had committed to funding financial counsellors using money from a proposed bank levy.
"Where they will go is to be worked out, but given the services offered here (at Bendigo Family Financial Services) they are one of the likely contenders," she said.
Liberal candidate for Bendigo Sam Gayed was contacted for comment.
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