Q&A with Gavin Dufty

For two decades, our Policy & Research department has been involved in developing energy concessions and consumer protections for households. Through our tariff tracker, we monitor the utilities market and the financial impact of any price changes on families and individuals.

Our work in communities across Victoria shows that energy bill affordability remains a major issue affecting up to 28% of the population. Every week, St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria volunteers meet hundreds of people living in poorly insulated homes, struggling to pay their bills.

Gavin is our resident expert on not just energy bills, but everything to do with how the cost of living impacts low and vulnerable households.

Can you explain what the cost of living means?
It refers to the pricing levels of all the things that cost us money – the essentials and the non-essentials.

What happens to people on fixed incomes when costs go up?
People on fixed incomes have less flexibility within their resources. What we do is give people the resources to participate in the mainstream economy, so that they are not left behind or excluded from society.

What’s your role at Vinnies?
My role is to try to understand the impacts of changes in the cost of living on vulnerable households. For example, clothes have become significantly cheaper in recent years and this is a bonus for families with growing kids, but not so much for aged pensioners. We also track energy tariffs and lobby providers if we think a price rise will unfairly impact certain groups.

What happens when families are at breaking point?
Financial issues can create huge stress in households and can lead to family violence, shame and embarrassment around the idea that people ‘are not managing' or need to get assistance from organisations such as Vinnies. It can also lead to intergenerational issues. For example, if children are involved, financial stress impacts their future, or for older members of the household, it can lead to health conditions or exacerbate existing ones.

What are your top five tips for making money go further?

  1. The first one is obvious, but it’s essential and that is to budget. Vinnies always works with people on budgeting when we begin assisting them.
  2. Plan ahead. Spread the bill load out over the year as much as possible. Christmas is a tough time for people, for example, so keep an eye out for bargains all year.
  3. Pool resources. Recycle clothes and school uniforms in your community.
  4. Get all your entitlements. Many people don't know what discounts and utility bill concessions they can claim. Read more here: https://services.dhhs.vic.gov.au/concessions-and-benefits
  5. Get the best value on all your household contracts. Regularly refresh your gas, electricity, internet, insurance contracts to make sure you are getting the best-value deal.