Many in Illawarra ‘living on the edge’

Almost four people a week are declaring bankruptcy in the Illawarra as residents continue to feel the bite of job losses and spiralling living costs.

Almost 50 people across the region filed for bankruptcy in the three months to June 30, along with nine businesses.

New data, released by the federal government’s Australian Financial Security Authority, shows Dapto and Port Kembla felt the biggest pinch with 18 people declaring bankruptcy.

Financial troubles also hit 17 people in Wollongong and 13 in Kiama and Shellharbour.

 A further  40 individuals and businesses were forced to enter a debt agreement to pay back money.

 Illawarra Legal Centre financial counsellor Maroun Germanos said the figures showed many people were living on the edge.

‘‘We see at least 10 new people a week who are in financial trouble,’’ he said. ‘‘It can be from loss of employment, a relationship breakdown or illness but most of the time it’s overcommitment – they’ve borrowed too much and they can’t pay it back.’’

Mr Germanos said soaring costs of living, including rising petrol and electricity prices, had also pushed people to the brink.

‘‘Increased utility and petrol prices put pressure on people.  They’re more likely to use their credit cards to pay a bill they’re not expecting or to ask for more time to pay.’’

But it’s not all doom and gloom – overall, we’re in less debt than we were in March.

More than 60 people had declared themselves bankrupt in the March quarter this year.

Wollongong was the worst hit with 26 personal bankruptcies recorded. An extra 10 people had applied for debt help in March, including 22 from Dapto and Port Kembla.

It seems the southern suburbs have done it tough since the end of 2013 as total debt figures show an increase in the past six months.

Just seven people in Dapto and Port Kembla had filed for bankruptcy in the December quarter 2013, while personal insolvency jumped from 20 to 41 residents in the June quarter this year.

Mr Germanos said that area often struggled.

‘‘I think it’s a lot more apparent there. Berkeley, Port Kembla and Warrawong are three of the most disadvantaged areas in the Illawarra ... there are people there living on the edge.’’

Overall, the number of insolvencies in the Illawarra dropped slightly, keeping in line with the 10.1 per cent decline nationally.

But Mr Germanos believes the fall does not necessarily represent a decline in people in financial hot water.

‘‘It could be the case that creditors aren’t suing people as much or they’re accepting more lenient payment arrangements so people aren’t being pushed to the brink as much as before,’’ he said.

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