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Family Forum: Managing bills

That sick feeling as bills keep piling up

QUESTION:

My wife and I have been unwell for five years and have used up our work entitlements. We normally manage our bills fairly well but at the moment we are feeling extremely distressed and not thinking clearly as our council rates are in arrears and they have called in lawyers to recover our debt. Where can we go to for some guidance and support?

ANSWER:

Illness can so easily consume other areas of your life and add to levels of distress and complexity. One way you can seek help is to speak to a financial counsellor for a free and confidential service. To find out where your nearest financial counselling office is, phone the National Debt Help Line on 1800 007 007 or visit the website ndh.org.au where you can explore the map showing locations of more than 850 financial counsellors.

You can also call the collection agency and let them know that you are seeking support for the debt owing. If this is too overwhelming due to your illness, the financial counsellor can help you with this.

If you receive any benefits from the government now that your work entitlements have come to an end, you may also be entitled to fee reductions or support payments. Centrelink recipients are entitled to government concessions on transport, electricity, water and sewerage, the Emergency Services Levy, car registration, drivers licence, medicines and postage. These concessions may help to ease your financial stress. Phone Centrelink or go into a branch to receive more information about your entitlements.

The financial counsellor can also explore the option of Income Protection (IP) and Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) entitlements from your superannuation funds to support yourselves.

If you feel that the Council has not treated you fairly, you can lodge a complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman, phone: 1800 182 150 (outside metro SA only) or (08) 8226 8699, email: ombudsman@ombudsman.sa.gov.au and the street address is Level 5, 91 King William St, Adelaide 5000.

Speaking to your GP or specialists is important also as they will not only be your medical support people at this difficult time, they may be able to assist you with documentation of your illness for financial supports and entitlements. The most important thing is not to ignore any letters or calls you receive asking for payments or to ignore your regular debts. Again, a financial counsellor will be able to support you with how to respond to collection businesses and how to manage these situations while you are both ill.

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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