Updated financial hardship policy for ratepayers

By James Bennett

Greater Shepparton City Council will update its financial hardship policy for ratepayers.

The policy gives residents who are suffering financially the opportunity to seek assistance from council on how they can pay their rates.

The updates will remove the conditions of interest being charged on long-term financial hardship, and for rates, levies or charges to be paid in full before an interest waiver would be granted on compassionate grounds.

Councillor Kim O'Keeffe moved a motion on Tuesday night, September 15, approving the updates, and said residents needed to be aware of what was available.

“They can contact council with regards to any financial issues they may be having, paying their rates or whatever that may be,” she said.

Cr O'Keeffe said given the economic downturn the region would face from the coronavirus pandemic, residents needed to feel comfortable.

Cr Dinny Adem said council was not "some huge bank" that would come calling at midnight to collect rates.

“It (policy) is there to be used, and council in the past have worked very closely with community members,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the rates need to be paid.”

Cr Adem said he would like to see a policy review brought forward earlier than every four years.

Speaking against the motion on Tuesday night, Cr Fern Summer said the changes did not go far enough.

“It's great we removed the interest, but people need to feel comfortable about approaching us — and the language is pretty strict,” she said.

“The limit for the amount to be deferred under deferral is 10 per cent of the captial improved value of the property, and that's not very much.

“I'd like that removed so it can be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

According to the meeting's agenda, 64 per cent of council's income is from rates.

Under the Local Government Act 2020, council was required to update the document before December 2020.