Relief agencies await influx

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Escalating power bills, high petrol costs and expensive rents will be a triple-whammy for some Central Otago residents this winter.

Agencies which help people struggling to make ends meet are bracing for an influx of people in need.

Central Otago Budgeting Service office manager/co-ordinator Pam Hughes said the organisation had about 170 clients on its books and most were self-referrals.

She described some of those clients as “the working poor”, and said although there was little unemployment in the district, the cost of living meant some families with two incomes were struggling.

There were few houses available for rent in the wider Central Otago district.

“There’s people I know who are living in not-ideal situations, but they have nowhere to move to.

“Queenstown and Wanaka people who can’t find rental homes in their area are moving to Cromwell and Alexandra and it has a flow-on effect into the outlying rural areas, too. Finding a home to rent can be a real issue at the moment.”

Housing New Zealand houses in the area were tenanted and there were few other homes to rent. Those that were available were often on the market.

“That makes for an insecure tenancy, especially if you’re uprooting children from schools to move to a house. It can be unsettling for them,” Mrs Hughes said.

Weekly rent for a two to three-bedroom home was an average of $300. There was also a decided lack of affordable homes for residents to buy, Mrs Hughes said.

“It’s difficult when people are moving here for jobs but they can’t afford the cost of living”

Travel costs were also rising. Some people lived more than an hour’s drive away from their workplace, while others faced a long drive to play sport.

“We all know about the high cost of petrol, so that places pressure on people in this area too, because our district is so spread out,” she said.

It was important for people to seek help as there were several supplements and grants which could ease the overall financial pressure. Some were new and others had been extended so people might be unaware they were eligible.

The area covered by an accommodation supplement changed on April 1 and a heating grant which comes into force on July 1 might also benefit Central Otago residents, Mrs Hughes said.

The service’s focus was moving more to education.

“We’re trying to be the ambulance at the top of the cliff, not at the bottom.”

Meanwhile, Cromwell Foodbank co-ordinator Adrienne Heal said people referred to the bank were getting budgeting advice and were well supported by the various agencies.

“Demand for our service is steady right now but we expect more demand as winter bites and those bills arrive,” she said.

The foodbank, which is part of the Cromwell Welfare Trust, was well supported by businesses, groups and individuals in the community.

The only goods which were in short supply were more personal grooming items, such as soap and shampoo.