One in four Australians go without household essentials and can't pay bills because of the high cost of living, according to a new survey.

The survey of 1,000 people across the nation - carried out by not-for-profit Good Shepherd Microfinance - found that during the past 12 months, 27 per cent of respondants couldn’t pay for medical treatment they needed, 21 per cent went without food and 20 per cent couldn’t afford home appliances.

Some 29 per cent said they most struggled to afford power bills, 23 per cent repairing or registering their car, nine per cent replacing appliances, eight per cent medical bills and six per cent food.

Asked when they would most likely be in a better financial position, 25 per cent said once they paid off debt, 13 per cent said they needed a job, 10 per cent wanted more hours at work and eight per cent said when they no longer supported children. Some 12 per cent said they could not see a time when things would improve.

Adam Mooney, CEO of Good Shepherd, said the survey demonstrated the "urgent need" to increase the Federal Government's Newstart allowance, which is provided to people in Australia when they are unemployed and looking for work.

“The reality is that Newstart hasn’t kept up with the cost of living which means that families and individuals are struggling with the basics,” he said. “But this survey also reveals that even people earning an income are doing it tough and, unfortunately, more are turning to expensive fast cash or payday loans just to cover the essentials of living."

He said people were "trying to juggle but worry about their children going without or losing their independence".

“Comments made to the survey are a wake-up call – clearly having a job no longer means financial security with responses such as ‘After 40 years of working, worrying about finances is very disheartening’ and ‘I stress about being retired and not being able to top up finances’.”

Under its a No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS), Good Shepherd Microfinance offer loans of up to $1,500 at more than 690 locations across the country.