Inflation, interest rates: Australians stealing from supermarkets, cafes and petrol stations in price crisis

More Australians are resorting to theft as they reach financial breaking point during the cost of living crisis.

One in eight Australians has admitted to stealing in the past 12 months, according to new research from Finder, suggesting as many as 2.4 million Australians have participated in petty crime.

The survey found five per cent of Australians had admitted to stealing at the supermarket self checkout, with slightly fewer (four per cent) cheating the machines by scanning cheaper items and bagging expensive ones.

“That’s 811,000 people who purposely scanned cheaper items such as an onion but bagged a more expensive one such as an avocado,” the research found.

Australians have been left reeling from a cost of living crisis which reached its peak in December 2022 when inflation rose by 7.9 per cent.

Though inflation lowered to 6.0 per cent in June 2023, food remains 7.5 per cent higher than it was a year ago, with Australians spending an average of $740 a month on groceries according to Finder.

The new stats have revealed Australian households are at “breaking point” according to Finder money expert Sarah Megginson.

“The research really shows just how much people are struggling and turning to things that they probably never could have imagined in the past,” she said.

“It really speaks to the fact that people are struggling and the financial counselling hotlines and support services are seeing a totally new demographic come through, people who would have been classed as middle class Australians who have never needed the services before have just been completely caught out by the last 12 months.”

Other shocking statistics in the research found that four per cent of Australians had driven away without paying for petrol.

The average price for unleaded fuel has skyrocketed from a low of 180c in July to an average of 217.6 for Unleaded 95 petrol in October.

Meanwhile two per cent, or roughly around 400,000 people, had left a restaurant without paying in the past year.

Ms Megginson said that a large part of people’s issues came from the high cost of housing, with soaring interest rates hurting homeowners and a tight market harming renters.

The Reserve Bank lifted the cash rate 12 times in the last 18 months, bringing interest rates from a low of 0.10 to 4.10 in little over a year.

The average renter in an Australian capital city will now have to fork out an average of $551 per week for a home, with rents Sydney increasing 18 per cent in the past year according to PropTrack.

She also warned that the worst was yet to come for many Australian households.

“We haven‘t seen the bankruptcies yet, but I think there’s a big ‘yet’ around that. I think we’ve yet to see the full brunt of what the last 12 months has done to people because it was just such a fast and unexpected turnaround,” she said.

“…I think we’ll be looking at more bankruptcies and people realising that they’ve been holding out as long as they can…but people can only hold on for so long.”

The financial expert warned that it may seem like an easy fix to drive away from a petrol station or scan the wrong thing at a checkout, but it’s not worth the risk.

“If you’re in that position, first reach out to a financial debt helpline, they can help you, they look at your overall financial position and can help you with things like restructuring your debt or debt forgiveness,” she said.

“They can help you with a budget and just look at your overall financial position and help you improve it.”

She also urged homeowners to contact their bank early if they feel they are in financial stress, as financial institutions get much harder on customers once they fall behind on payments.

“Once you’re officially delinquent, once you fall behind on your payments, the options of what they can do for you change because you’re in a different system,” she said.

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