Vulnerable Australians can’t heat their homes – Image: Unsplash
  • 64% of low income earners can't pay their bills on time
  • 36% stopped having guests over to save on energy bills
  • Over half of survey respondents were on hardship plans with their energy provider

Nearly two-thirds of vulnerable Australians cannot afford to pay their utility bills on time due to a shortage of money, more than six times higher than the national average according to new research.

The Salvation Army’s Head of Fundraising, Janine Kewming, said many are doing it tougher than ever with 64% of Australia’s vulnerable unable to afford utility bills in a cost-of-living crisis.

“It is now more expensive to be poor in this country,” said Kewming.

“Our community members are making the most devastating decisions.

“Having to decide whether to put the heating on to stay warm in winter can literally be the difference between life and death.”

Janine Kewming, Salvation Army’s Head of Fundraising

With winter now here, the Salvos’ survey of more than 1,700 community members who accessed assistance from The Salvation Army illustrates the extreme challenges they are facing.

Over 5 in 10 (51%) respondents were on hardship plans with their energy provider, almost three-quarters (74%) were cutting back on using heating, and 70% had reduced the use of lights in their homes.

Forgoing heating for years

A 35-year-old single mother who accessed The Salvos services said she had no heating for two years.

“My mental health is day-to-day, depending on whether I can afford my medication or even necessities like milk and bread.

“I have skipped meals at night to ensure my son has what he needs. I have sold most of my jewellery to pawnbrokers.

“I feel guilty that my son can see we are struggling, and it’s something a child should never have to worry about.

“I’m scared that we won’t cope this coming winter.”

The survey also found households were also forced to cut back in other areas. with 6 in 10 taking shorter or fewer showers, 34% went to bed early to keep warm, and 36% stopped having guests over to save on energy bills.

The research findings come as The Salvation Army’s annual Red Shield Appeal aims to raise $37 million by June 30 to ensure it can continue providing support to thousands of Aussies doing it tough every week.

“The Salvation Army has a network of over 2,000 centres and services around the country providing critical support, but this isn’t possible without the generosity of the Australian public,” said Kewming.

“Your support, especially at tax time, makes a tangible difference.

“Almost 90% of those surveyed said they would not have coped financially if it wasn’t for the support of the Salvos.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was a “tough time” for many Australians.

“My mum, although she had nothing, would always give to The Salvos every time.”

“The good thing about The Salvos is that you know every dollar goes towards helping people.”

Staying safe during winter

NSW Fair Trading Commissioner Natasha Mann said that with winter here, people need to take steps to keep their homes safe.

“Simple precautions such as checking for recalls on all products, following safety guidelines, and being vigilant about safety can go a long way in protecting your family and home,” said Mann.

“Smoke alarms are our first line of defence against fires – so it’s vital their batteries are replaced annually, they are regularly tested, and alarms more than 10 years old are replaced.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to burns and accidents related to heating products and it is crucial to keep them away from open flames, heaters, and loose-fitting sleepwear.

“By being proactive and making safety a top priority we can all enjoy a warm and cosy winter season free of harm this year.”

Top ten tips for keeping your home safe during winter

In a release, NSW Fair Trading provided ten simple, no-cost ways to protect yourself and your family from harm this winter.

  1. Replace smoke alarms every 10 years; test it regularly and change batteries annually.
  2. Check electric blankets for frayed cords and worn-out wires. Electric blankets should always turn off before sleeping and avoid placing heavy objects on top.
  3. Hot water bottles should be filled with hot tap water, not boiling water. It should also be used with a fitted cover or wrap and never placed directly onto skin. Users should also check the ‘daisy wheel’ date of manufacture.
  4. Do not leave candles unattended; keep candles away from flammable materials; and keep lighters and matches out of reach of children.
  5. Ensure the fireplace chimney is clean and well-ventilated before lighting a fire; use a mesh screen to prevent sparks and falling wood.
  6. Heaters should be kept on a flat and level surface, away from flammable materials. Outdoor heaters should not be used inside the home.
  7. Wheat/heat packs should be allowed to cool before reheating. Heating instructions should be followed, and packs should be disposed of if a burning smell is detected.
  8. Decorative alcohol-fuelled devices should never be left unsupervised, and should be kept away from flammable materials. They should only be refilled when the flame is completely extinguished and the device is cool.
  9. Children’s nightwear: Avoid loose-fitting sleepwear. Keep children away from open flames and heaters.
  10. Clean up any mould promptly. Identify and fix the source of moisture.

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