Council rates defaults on the rise

The number of Wyndham residents struggling to pay their rates is on the rise, council figures reveal.

Outstanding rates, as of December 31 last year, now total $16.3 million – a $3.1 million jump on the year before.

Denis Nelthorpe, chief executive of West Justice, formerly known as the Western Community Legal Centre, said councils were making little or no effort to understand the default problem and were not putting enough resources in to rectify it.

“They need to be putting resources into understanding the ratepayers in default,” Mr Nelthorpe said. “We know Wyndham is one of the highest-ranking municipalities for residents who are in difficulty with paying their mortgage and I’m still not convinced the council does enough to assist these people.

“This is, in part, because local government in Victoria does not have a particularly efficient hardship policy and process,” he said.

“They also need to differentiate between an investor not contributing rates and residents who can’t afford to pay.”

He said Wyndham council’s response was unsophisticated and ineffective, and the significant rise in outstanding rates highlighted this.

Council’s corporate services director, Steve Lambert, said the process in place saw council send out arrears notices to residents who missed their payment deadline.

“We strongly encourage ratepayers who are having issues making payments to speak to the rating services unit,” he said. “When council doesn’t receive a response, the account may be referred to a debt collection agency, which will issue a further reminder that may escalate to demand letters.”

Mr Lambert said options were available to ratepayers depending on their circumstances.

These included short-term extensions, longer-term arrangements and assistance.

In some cases, defaults may be referred for legal action.