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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Can't find money for the increased rates - take out a hardship application or pay 6% interest

With Council now approving a 1.7% increase in rates and similar increases in water and sewer Eurobodalla households will need to factor this into their budgets along with mortgage rate increases, insurance increases, fuel and food. Unlike food and fuel that can be scrimped on if need be mortgages need to be met. Some will choose to not insure or adjust their premiums to under-insure. The consequences of under-insuring has been felt across the South East in the wake of the bushfires and floods. Insurance companies are now under the hammer having to pay out for bushfires and now floods. Some are doing their best to deny claims such as the recent case of a farmer selling eggs at his farm gate under an honesty box and being told his burnt down home was not covered as he had failed to declare he was running a "business". Across the South East there are still ongoing insurance disputes from the bushfires. The other must-pay are rates. Council will be issuing new rate notices and ratepayers will need to cover the increase from an already diminishing cash flow. And if you can't? Well, the rates must be paid but what Council does is say "we might not charge you 6% interest on the unpaid rates" if you qualify for hardship. To qualify you have to reveal all of your financials to a council staff member who then decides if you are fair-dinkum or not. The other thing Council doesn't tell you is that if you don't pay your rates (or the interest on your rates) they pass the debt over to a debt collection agency. That way burly brutes at you front door demanding payment aren't Council and Council can say "sorry, those aren't our people". The Rates and Debtors Hardship policy only enables Council to write off or reduce interest accrued on rates or charges, and only if the person complies with an agreement made with Council as to periodical payment of those rates and charges. Alas, NONE of this information, the policy or the forms is on Council's Rates Webpage To discover any of this one needs to go into the bowels of the Council website and use Google search to get there as Council's own search is cumbersome at best and inept in general.

The Council Rates and Debtors Hardship Policy tells us that: Council will individually assess cases of financial hardship. Council staff carry out that assessment. Council advises in their Rates and Debtors Hardship Policy: A ratepayer may be eligible for consideration for hardship assistance in the payment of overdue rates, annual charges, debtors and interest , where:  The person is unable to pay rates or accrued interest when due and payable for reasons beyond the persons control (Section 567)  Payment of the accrued interest would cause the person hardship (section 567)  For a person who is already approaching rock bottom, and may well now be living in the red it would be evident that paying the rates, especially inflated rates WILL most likely cause the person hardship.

Rates and Debtors Hardship Policy: 3 Provisions advises that all applications for hardship must be submitted on councils prescribed application form available at: Unfortunately, as you may have discovered, the no longer exists. Ascout about on Council's website reveals the word Forms in the top right hand corner as a clue.. For the average ratepayer the task of getting this far will probably have been either danged lucky or dauntingly frustrating. Once the Rates and debtors hardship form (824.1 KB) form is found an applicant will soon discover that for applications to be given full consideration, evidence of hardship must be supplied by the applicant. This evidence may take the form of social security information, tax returns or workers compensation details. Hardship will only apply to the ratepayer’s primary place of residence. If it is found that incorrect disclosures were deliberately made, Council reserves the right to cancel the agreement and collect any amount previously waived in accordance with this policy. On the Application for Hardship Relief Council says: "The information that we collect from you via application and registration forms may be personal information for the purposes of the PPIP Act. Council collects this personal information from you in order to process and respond to your application or registration. The supply of the required information by you is not voluntary. If you cannot provide or do not wish to provide the information sought, then we may be limited in dealing with your application". The bottom line is that unless you were aware there is nothing to advise ratepayers on Council's website that they can arrange an alternate payment schedule, nor is there any mention of a process to apply for Hardship relief that might enable the waiving of the maximum rate of interest that that was adopted on June 28th on overdue rates and charges for 2022-23 of 6.0%. The Councillors were advised by way of the agenda (page 9) that: The Minister for Local Government has determined the maximum rate of interest that may be charged on overdue rates and charges for 2022-23 will be 6.0%. The report, prepared and presented by Dr Catherine Dale - General Manager recommended that "Council resolves to adopt the maximum interest rate allowed". Rather than bothering to ask "How many ratepayers are there who we charge 6% interest on overdue rates and fees?" or "Can we determine to charge less than this or waive the interest all together given the economic reality and hardships that WILL affect of most of our ratepayers in the near and long term?" we heard nothing at all. Clearly the councillors didn't bother to consider the potential financial impact the maximum 6% adds to those already unable to pay or it slipped through as being just two sentences in an agenda of several hundred pages. The recommendation to charge the maximum allowable interest rate speaks volumes of a Council hell bent on cutting its pound of flesh without hesitation. Only a fortnight before the Councillors voted themselves a 2% pay rise with only one Councillor saying no (to direct the increase to a charity instead).

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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