Relief for ratepayers in financial hardship

Stock image.
Stock image.

CITY of Wanneroo residents facing severe financial hardship can have interest and fees on overdue rates waived following a policy approval.

The council adopted the Financial Hardship – Collection of Rates and Services Charges Policy at its June 4 meeting to provide some relief to people in financial distress.

It stemmed from a motion on notice put forward by councillor Brett Treby in April based on the Ombudsman’s recommendations on good practice for local governments dealing with people in vulnerable situations.

His motion said overdue rates and service charges incurred an 8.45 per cent penalty interest charge per annum, accrued on a daily basis.

“It’s somewhat counter-intuitive that we seek to penalise the people that are least able to afford it,” Cr Treby said.

Mayor Tracey Roberts supported the initiative, saying it was an opportunity to support people “at their most rock bottom and feeling vulnerable”.

The new policy aimed to treat residents applying for waivers with “respect, dignity, fairness, equity and confidentiality” while giving the City flexibility to respond to their needs.

It said the City would determine the amount applicants paid to reduce their debt, and the chief executive could write-off late payment interest up to $400 and determine alternative payment options based on individual circumstances.

“The level of relief applicants may receive will be based on the evidence of genuine financial hardship because of trauma or tragedy, level of income, reliance on social security, illness or disability, business failure or other factors considered relevant by the chief executive,” a council report said.

Cr Treby said the policy allowed the chief executive to treat people in financial hardship with the respect they deserved while helping them deal with their debts to the City.

“Already this year we are receiving some concerns from some community members who are doing it tough,” Mrs Roberts said.

The council adopted the policy ahead of its 2019-20 budget meeting on June 28, when it will adopt the differential rates for next financial year.