For many people the end of each year is a time to relax, enjoy the company of friends and family and celebrate the passing of one year and the dawn of the next.

However, the Christmas and New Year holiday period can be a time of significantly heightened hardship for many Victorians. People can find themselves struggling to get by as their normal networks of support shut down or become less accessible and it is a time when financial pressures can be profound.

For people who work in casual and part time jobs it can also be a time when businesses shut down and there is less work available and less money coming in. People can find themselves financially overcommitted as they seek to meet the expectations of family and friends.

Financial counsellors and emergency relief agencies see an increase in the number of people seeking assistance, often with more complex problems which require more intensive support. Sadly, each year domestic violence organisations prepare for a significant jump in the number of calls and referrals to their services over the Christmas and New Year period. Housing and homelessness services also see more people who need help to find a place to stay.

It can also be a time of profound loneliness and mental distress as people confront broken relationships and lost connections.

Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) members who work directly with people experiencing family breakdown and financial crisis tell us stories about women living in their cars with their children; or people traveling to reconnect with family who have nowhere to stay; or how the difficulty of meeting other people’s and society’s expectations at this time of year can lead to increased drug or alcohol use and the risk of physical and mental breakdown.

For organisations like VCOSS who work to alleviate the causes of disadvantage and seek to create a fairer, more just society, the hardship that many people experience at Christmas is a reminder of the need for the work we do advocating for the interests of vulnerable Victorians.

Contacts for people experiencing hardship

Energy hardship

The VCOSS guide, Keeping the lights on, offers practical advice and contact information for people who are experiencing energy hardship or are worried they may be disconnected from their supply.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOV) should be contacted for any problems, issues or complaints about energy or water. Freecall: 1800 500 509; Interpreter:  131 450; Email: ewovinfo@ewov.com.au .

General hardship and household budget

Moneyhelp offers advice and assistance to people with debt or payment problems and is run by the Consumer Action Law Centre. They offer a free phone service on 1800 007 007.

The Financial and Consumer Rights Council is the peak body for financial counsellors who offer free, confidential and independent financial advice.

MoneySmart – Financial tips and safety checks website provided by ASIC.

Federation of Community Legal Centres – Help in finding a community legal centre in your area.

Gambling Help Online – Live counselling for gamblers and their families, along with resources and information for community workers.

Family violence referral

Domestic Violence Victoria is the peak body for women and children’s family violence services in Victoria.

The Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria (WDVCS) is the state-wide not-for-profit service for women and children experiencing violence and abuse from a partner or ex-partner, another family member or someone close to them.

Emma King is the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS).

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