Financial Hardship Council Policy

Version: 2
Approval date:  23 November 2021
Approved by:  Council 
Effective date:   
Review date:  October 2022
Responsible officer:  Chief Financial Officer 
Authorising officer:  Chief Executive Officer 

Introduction

Municipal rates, fees and charges are the primary source of revenue for the City to ensure the ongoing delivery of a range of important services to the local community. In times of emergency, Council recognises the significant hardship that can be experienced by the members of the community and business. Managing financial hardship is a shared responsibility and Council has a part to play whilst ensuring that it maintains the necessary cashflow to deliver critical services to the community during this time.


Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide a framework for financial relief to customers who need assistance from the impacts of life events such as loss of employment, family circumstances, natural disasters or impacts of a pandemic.


Scope

This policy applies to all monies owed to the Greater Geelong City Council including rates, fees and user charges including but not limited to animal registrations, permits and rent. The policy does not apply to fines issued under Council’s local laws. The policy is for the 2021-22 financial year.

To the extent this policy is inconsistent with other current Council policies, the provisions of this policy shall apply


Definitions

This section defines the key terms used in this policy.

City - The City of Greater Geelong organisation, led by the CEO.

Council - The City of Greater Geelong Council comprised of elected councillors and led by the Mayor.

Deferral - Means the suspension for a period of time, which may be short term or long term but not indefinite.

Financial hardship - Means a change in circumstances often triggered by unexpected costs or life events which will affect a person or business’ temporary or ongoing ability to pay rates, fees and charges or rent:

  • For a person, these circumstances include:
    • Unemployment
    • Sickness or injury
    • Family break down
    • Family violence
    • Decreased income or loss of income
    • The impact of Federal and State Government Directions issued from time to time
    • Any other matter considered by the City at its sole discretion.
  • For a business, these circumstances include:
    • Decreased income or loss of income
    • The impact of Federal and State Government Directions issued from time to time that is: directed shut down
    • Where the business has been assessed by the Australian Taxation Office as being eligible for the Commonwealth or State Government financial assistance payment, or
    • Any other matter considered by the City at its sole discretion.

Customer

Is someone that has an outstanding debt to the City.


Waiver

Means to permanently exempt a customer from a requirement to pay.


Payment Arrangement

A payment plan or arrangement agreed to between the customer and the City Council based on the customers capacity to pay.


Policy

1.  Financial hardship

A person or business can apply to access the financial hardship provisions of this policy by sending a completed application form (Attachment A) by email to [email protected], including the details of the circumstances preventing that person or business from meeting their financial obligations to Council.


2.  Assessment

The City will consider an application for financial hardship relief confidentially and objectively based on the information provided by the person or business in the application and will and advise of its decision in writing within 14 days of receiving the application and all supporting information.

Where a person or business is dissatisfied with the outcome of their application, the customer may ask the Chief Financial Officer to review the City’s decision by completing and lodging the Appeal Against Decision form (Attachment B). The Chief Financial Officer will determine the appeal within 14 days from receipt of the form.

Where the customer is still dissatisfied with the outcome of their application, the customer can refer the matter to the Victorian Ombudsman.


3.  Deferral of fees, rates and charges

Customers may have rates, fees and charges or rent deferred for a short or long term, although they will continue to be levied for their ongoing rates, fees and charges or rent and balance notices will continue to be provided to keep ratepayers informed.

In all applications for deferral, customers will be encouraged to continue to pay that portion of the rates, fees and charges or rent that is affordable given their individual circumstances. This will be mutually agreed for a given period of time and the particular circumstances of the customers individual case.


4.  Payment arrangements

Payment arrangements allow the customer to reach an agreement with the City to pay rates, fees and charges or rent over time in regular instalments where they cannot pay by the instalment or annual due date. The payment arrangement must meet the following conditions:

4.1 Any payment agreement should be set with a known end date that clears the deferred debt within an agreed timeframe preferably within 12 months
4.2 Penalty interest will be charged on amounts thatare not paid as required by the payment agreement
4.3 Where there have been repeated payment defaults by the customer, the City will review interest charges to be applied and will consider next steps including any debt recovery required
4.4 That the City and the customer can agree to review and, if necessary, amend the payment schedules and due dates if the customer contacts the City in a timely manner
4.5  Centrepay allows ratepayers on Centrelink payments to have their rates paid by Centrelink from their fortnightly payments without interest charges

5.  Waiver and application of penalty interest charges

Interest is charged on overdue rates and charges in accordance with the Local Government Act.

Where rates, fees and charges have been deferred in accordance with this policy, no interest will accrue for the duration those rates, fees or charges are deferred so long as the customer is complying with the hardship payment agreement or where the ratepayer is a pensioner or otherwise vulnerable.

In both cases, the interest rate is that fixed under section 2 of the Penalty Interest Rates Act 1983.


6.  Exceptional circumstances

The Local Government Act provides for a waiver of rates.

Council acknowledges an inequity for ratepayers is created where rates are waived which would otherwise be charged against the property assets, and recognises the deferral of rates and charges as a more equitable outcome for the entire community.
However, the City will consider waiving or reducing rates for certain ratepayers where exceptional circumstances are experienced, and where severe impact can be demonstrated.

Consideration of a waiver can only occur if all financial information has been disclosed to the City with supporting documentation as may be requested. Penalties apply for providing false and misleading information for an application for waiver.
Exceptional circumstances will be determined at the sole discretion of the Chief Executive Officer. Waivers for the can only be approved by the Chief Executive Officer for up to one instalment for residential rates on the condition that the customer meets with a financial counsellor and provides authority for the City to discuss the account with the financial counsellor.

For commercial, industrial and farm rates the wavier will be for up to one instalment. The waiver is excluded for petroleum and vacant land rates. Any waivers approved by the Chief Executive Officer will exclude the waste charge.


7.  When rates, fees and charges become fully payable

Despite any payment agreement under section 4 and any waiver and application of penalty interest charges under section 5, outstanding rates, fees and charges or rent (and any accrued interest) will be payment in full upon the following:

7.1 In the case of a person, the Ratepayer becomes deceased
7.2 In the case of a business, the Ratepayer enters into administration or liquidation
7.3 The applicable property is sold or transferred to another person or entity
7.4 There is a material alteration to the Ratepayer’s circumstances

8.  Debt recovery

Debt recovery is commenced as a last resort as a final attempt to engage with customers prior to legal action. The first contact by the external debt collection agency is a letter confirming the customer is aware of the debt and offering assistance in the form of payment arrangements or advising of Council’s hardship policy.

The City do not take legal action against pensioners or customers experiencing family violence.

Only accounts with a balance over $1,000 are referred for debt collection.


Implementation of this policy

Monitoring and reporting

This policy will be monitored by the Chief Financial Officer and reported to the Executive Leadership Team from time to time or whenever the City’s cash flow position is threatening to be compromised, whichever first occurs.


Advice and assistance

The Responsible Officer for this policy manages the provision of advice to the organisation regarding this policy and the referral to a financial counselling or other support organisation.


Records

The City must retain records associated with this policy and its implementation for at least the period shown below.

Record Retention / Disposal Authority Retention Period Location
Applications for Hardship Correspondence Chief Financial Officer 7 years EDRMS (ReX)




Page last updated: Thursday, 25 November 2021

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