15 October 2013
A recent report by Bruce and Grey Counties summarizes the changes in job security and the impact of the rising cost of utilities.
It is estimated that about 1 in 3 Canadians live pay cheque to pay cheque and support service agencies in Bruce and Grey Counties find that most of the people they serve fall into this category. This means that a sudden change in a household’s situation, such as job loss, sickness or family break-up, can easily lead to housing affordability issues, including utility arrears.
Poverty is a root cause for this precarious position and the rising cost of utilities is yet one more issue that households in poverty have to cope with.
In Bruce and Grey Counties, the face of poverty is changing – service providers are starting to see seniors who are facing challenges and this was not the case in the past. While many seniors no longer have a mortgage on their home, many have modest, fixed incomes that are no longer sufficient to cover the rising costs of maintaining their homes, including utilities. Some seniors are particularly affected and anecdotal accounts have reported seniors going to bed in snow suits, using barbeques in their kitchens or reducing food purchases as a way to cope with utility costs. Many people refuse to ask for help with their utilities until the situation is quite dire, which in turn requires more community resources to resolve.
Recent data on service inquiries underscore the growing impact of utility issues. Community Connection/Ontario 211 receives calls and provides information on the services available in local communities. In 2012, the agency received a total of 2,401 call related to housing need from Grey County residents. Of these, 79% (1,895 calls) were related to utility arrears. Similarly, the agency received a total of 1,060 calls from Bruce County residents and 86% (919 calls) were related to utility arrears.
The issue of utility arrears affects the whole community and addressing it requires the collaboration of multiple stakeholders, including support service agencies, governments, utility providers and the clients themselves. Workshop participants proposed a number of solutions to help address the issue of utility arrears in Bruce and Grey Counties. The challenge ahead is how to advance possible solutions and make progress in alleviating utility arrears issues.
As part of the workshop, participants suggested possible next steps, including:
• Continue to meet on this issue and engage other stakeholders, such as the Legal Clinic and Poverty Task Force
• Increase political awareness on the issue
• Undertake educational activities for clients, including workshops and developing educational material
• Advocate for additional LEAP and CHPI funding
• Fundraise in the community
See the full report: Utilities Workshop – What We Heard Utility Workshop FINAL October 3, 2013