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Budget services stretched to limit

BY HANNAH NORTON
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2010

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The faces of people seeking help at budgeting services paint a better picture of the effects of the recession than words like inflation and stock index.

Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans says his organisation sees some of the people who are suffering the most.

"Almost every person coming through the door is experiencing some level of depression - it's hard times."

Client numbers have risen by 50 percent in the past year, he says, and rather than one session clients now need several one-hour sessions "because their problems are greater".

Traditionally most clients for budgeting services have been low-income beneficiaries with about $30,000 of debt, he says.

"Now we are seeing a lot of high salary workers who have been made redundant and have property to service. The cases have become far more complex and there are significantly larger amounts of debt," he says.

One couple has dropped from a combined salary of $260,000 to a shared benefit of $30,000 yet has to maintain the same level of mortgage repayments and essential bills.

"Another couple owns four properties – their home and three investment properties – and if any tenants move out they’ll go bust straight away and lose everything.

"It’s a different type of client and requires different skill sets for staff," Mr Evans says.

"It’s stressful times for everyone."

Staff are also seeing a lot more people coming in with mental health concerns as a result of that stress.

Some of those clients "are not always cooperative" and the service has been forced to install security cameras, Mr Evans says.

"We have a few volatile clients who try to verbally and physically attack staff. These are just people at the end of their tether."

While January is generally a quiet month for budgeting services because people are still on holiday, Mangere has been "flat-out from the moment we opened on January 5", he says.

"It’s been hard for all social services – foodbanks across south Auckland for example are in dire straits."

Mr Evans is backing the Families Commission’s recent appeal for greater government investment in budgeting services for financial assistance and education.

"There’s so much we could achieve with some additional funding," he says.

The commission says a new study Escaping the Debt Trap shows budgeting services make a real difference in helping families overcome debt yet the services are struggling to cope with demand.

For more information see www.nzfamilies.govt.nz.

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- Manukau Courier

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