Covid 19 Delta financial stress: ‘People are at their breaking point’, says Govt-funded service

The extended lockdown means people are struggling to pay their debts and many have reached an emotional breaking point, according to a free government-funded service that provides access to financial mentoring.

Angela Smart, team lead at MoneyTalks, said those initially contacting the service in the first few weeks of this lockdown were struggling to find money to feed their families.

“It was people who were used to having their kids being fed at school and it was not in their budget because they didn’t have to pay for it and then all of a sudden everybody was at home and you have now got kids to feed and hundreds of dollars a week extra for groceries they are having to come up with.”

But now the length of the lockdown was starting to impact on people’s ability to pay their debts, Smart said.

“We are regularly having callers that are saying… ‘I really haven’t kept up with my loan – I don’t know what to do here. I’m getting chased by debt collectors. I’ve ended up doing buy now pay later and I’m getting pinged … I can’t keep up with my car loan’.”

She said some had believed the lockdown would end after just two or three weeks while others expected more financial support like mortgage deferrals and rent freezes which were brought in last year but had not been offered under this lockdown.

“Now they are realising that white knight help isn’t coming in the same way it was given in the first lockdown. And just the length of the lockdown is really starting to take its impact on people’s ability to pay debt.”

Smart said the service had seen a 100 per cent increase in its call volumes and contacts from the public in the last quarter compared to the prior three-month period.

“I can not overemphasise – just the sheer number of phone calls that we are getting on a daily basis because people are at their breaking point.

“And it is not the people on a benefit – it is everybody – all of society.”

Smart said most people had stayed awake worrying about money at some point in their lives but it was now getting contact from Kiwis through its online chat service overnight.

“We can see it through our web chat, people can leave messages for us. Before lockdown we never had anybody leave messages overnight really. Now the number of people that leave us messages at 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am … they are up at night stressing.”

And where its phone calls were coming from had spread from Auckland to the Waikato which also remains under alert level 3.

“Every single month the numbers are going up and up and up – it has never ever been this large a volume.”

Smart said people needed more certainty. “For the last nine weeks they have carried on thinking – oh – it will get better, We will come out of lockdown soon and I’ll just go back to work andI’ll be back on 100 per cent [of my pay].

“But every week it extends for another week or two. I think certainty is what helps people, especially emotionally and being able to use the right information to make good decisions.”

• People can access help at MoneyTalks on 0800 345123

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