The Civic Award recognising Janet Harris's 20 years with the Hastings Budget Advisory Service is a timely reminder of the work volunteers offer the community.
Janet is among 13 staff at the budget advisory service. Of the people who work at the service's Queen St office, two are fulltime, another two are part time and the rest are volunteers.
Their work is often the last line of defence for people about to have their power cut off, lose their homes or those looking for their next meal because they've failed to manage bills or their incomes simply aren't enough to cover their outgoings.
The service's co-ordinator Greta Wham has figures that show staff have dealt with 735 new clients in the past year, on top of the 100 people it already had on its books.
The clients bring with them, or represent, a staggering $19 million of debt. And about $3 million of that debt is money which is owed in payment arrears on such things as mortgages, loans or household goods.
Greta, Janet and others at the service, through their advice, have managed to help clients pay off $130,000 of debt in the past year.
Not taking anything away from the hard work of the advisers, but it is a drop in the ocean when you consider more people are visiting the service, or being referred there, than ever before. Over 50 per cent of the 735 clients seen in the past year have been referred by Work and Income New Zealand.
Common problems include people unable to pay their power bills and as a result having their electricity disconnected. There are even anecdotal stories of people running a power cord to their neighbours to access electricity, and coming up with an arrangement with their neighbours for payment.
Greta says the lack of power is of particular concern heading into winter as the colder months are associated with illnesses and a doctor's bill is something that could break a household budget.
Other unexpected bills, such as the car breaking down, or even the start of the new school year, can force parents to surrender part of their food budget to keep their debts clear.
Loans are easier to access these days and the service is seeing more people who can't keep up with their repayments, although they can give advice on how best to manage loans. There's also an increase in clients who signed up as guarantor and then ended up taking on the debt when the person they were signing for failed to make payments.
Last night Janet stepped up to accept her Civic Award, along with the seven other recipients, in front of family and friends at the Hastings District Council. Janet's colleagues from the budget advisory service were also there to see their workmate honoured.
No doubt they will be using the award to help recruit more volunteers to cope with the increasing number of people desperately needing to sort out their budget and finances.
Hastings Civic Awards, see page 5.