Thursday, 30 July 2015 10:59

Mobile phone, Internet charges hit consumers hard Featured

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The cost of mobile phone and Internet charges are a big concern for many Australians, with charges for the services putting increased pressure on household budgets.

In the latest costs-of-living Consumer Pulse Report from Choice published today, 51% of consumers surveyed said they were concerned about the cost of both mobile and Internet services.

And, 18% said they were “very concerned” about their mobile costs, and 17% about the cost of their Internet service - with 33% "quite concerned" about mobile charges and 34% about Internet charges

The Choice report shows electricity, fuel, food and groceries top of the list of cost-of-living concerns for households.

Nationally, Choice found across-the-board increases in the cost-of-living a concern for Australian households, with 65% of consumers cutting back to cope with the financial pressure.

In this fifth quarterly survey by Choice, for the first time it has found rising concern across every major household expense.

“Households are feeling increased pressure across the board, with 85% of Australians saying their household bills and expenses had increased over the year. Electricity remained the biggest cost concern for the fifth consecutive quarter,” says Choice CEO Alan Kirkland.

“Concern over fuel prices has surged from 69% in March to 78% in June, and now sits alongside food and groceries as the second-biggest pressure. This reflects last week’s CPI figures, which showed the largest quarterly rise in fuel prices since December 1990, offsetting a big fall in the previous quarter.”

Kirkland notes that cost pressures are not evenly distributed, “with renters, low-income households and the unemployed most likely to be struggling, and families with school-aged kids the group most concerned about rising household expenses.”

On the economy, Kirkland says NSW is “clearly the stand-out economic performer” with around four-in-ten rating the economy good compared to about a quarter in other states.

But credit card debt is highlighted as a concern by Choice.

“As the political debate focuses on credit card interest rates, it is worrying that one-in-five Australians say they lived off a credit card to cover the gap until payday,” Kirkland says.

“We are concerned to see these signs of household stress at a time when inflation and mortgage interest rates are historically low.”

The latest Choice Consumer Pulse report also points to “an end-of-financial-year sting in insurance premiums”, with concerns over the costs of home and contents insurance (60%), car insurance (68%), and health costs including health insurance (73%) all rising to their highest levels across the survey’s five quarters.

“June is a time when many households are renewing insurance cover, and rising premiums are clearly a cause of concern,” Kirkland says.

“Our advice is don’t pay the ‘lazy tax’ by settling for a premium increase without testing the market and looking for a better deal on insurance, whether it’s home and contents, health or car insurance.”

Here’s the top findings from the Choice costs-of-living survey:

1.    For the first time since June 2014, concern over every major household expense has increased. Electricity, fuel and food & grocery prices top consumers’ list of concerns

2.    One in five people have lived off a credit card in the last twelve months to get through to payday

3.    Families with school-aged children are feeling the squeeze, with nine out of ten saying bills increased in the last twelve months – significantly higher than the national average (85%)

4.    Three-quarters (74%) of parents with children under five are worried about childcare fees

5.    Few are positive about the state of the Australian economy but people in NSW are much more optimistic than their interstate counterparts. Nearly four in ten people in NSW say the economy is good, compared to about a quarter of people in all other states

6.    More Australians are worried about their finances now than in September 2014; half are worried about interest rates (50%), two-thirds are worried about their level of saving (66%) and just under half are worried about their level of debt (48%), including mortgage and credit card debt.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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