Investigation launched into how councils are responding to ratepayers in financial hardshipDate posted:
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass has begun investigating how Victoria’s 79 local councils are responding to ratepayers in financial hardship.
Ms Glass said the investigation will focus on assistance for residential ratepayers in relation to their primary residence, as well as farmers.
“As we know too well, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn will see a growing number of people experiencing financial hardship,” Ms Glass said.
“Before the pandemic, my office regularly received complaints from ratepayers about the way councils responded when they could not pay their rates,” she said. “Financial counselling and community legal groups also raised concerns.
“I am aware that many councils are providing special assistance and relief for ratepayers during the pandemic. However, it is increasingly clear these problems will endure into the future.
“I believe it is important to look at how councils in different parts of Victoria respond to hardship, to identify good practice that can be shared across the sector.”
The investigation is considering issues including:
- whether information about councils’ financial hardship assistance is easily accessible for ratepayers
- whether councils’ financial hardship assistance is fair and reasonable, and whether councils apply that assistance appropriately
- how councils’ hardship assistance schemes compare with best practice, for example in electricity, gas and water hardship schemes and State Government schemes
- what councils can learn from COVID-19 relief schemes to improve responses to financial hardship in future.
Once the investigation is completed, expected to be in the first half of 2021, Ms Glass will report to Parliament and the public on her findings.
Ratepayers who are struggling to pay their rates can contact their council about the assistance available for them. If the issues cannot be resolved, they are welcome to contact the Victorian Ombudsman for advice on (03) 9613 6222 (10am-4pm, Monday-Friday) or online at www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/complaints
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