Residents seek rates relief

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

About 30 residents a year are receiving rates relief under Greater Dandenong’s hardship policy.

Over the past three financial years, the council waived about $8000 in residential rates – an average of about $270 per successful applicant.

The maximum waiver is set at $500 – unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

That cap is about 36 per cent of the median residential rates and charges bill in 2019-20 – about $1400.

Greater Dandenong corporate services director Mick Jaensch said the council put in place “numerous” payment plans for ratepayers in financial difficulties.

“(We) encourage any resident experiencing issues with paying their rates to contact Council and discuss the matter.

“Where financial hardship is deemed to be extreme Council will consider waiving a portion of the rates for one financial year.

“In these cases Council encourages residents to seek assistance via financial counselling which frequently can be accessed for free.”

The hardship policy came under hot debate as it was re-adopted by the council on 24 June.

Cr Tim Dark opposed the “band-aid” policy for covering up the issue of “jacked-up” rates that targeted employers and pushed “more and more people below the poverty line”.

“It’s a band-aid on a serious sore that has to be fixed”, Cr Dark said.

In defence of the policy, Cr Angela Long said it would particularly assist Springvale pensioners whose property value – and hence rates bills – had soared “astronomically”.

“They have lived there for 50 years. They can’t pay the rates but they don’t want to move.”

Cr Sean O’Reilly said some councillors talked up the need to reduce rates but were silent on how to slash expenditure.

“When you look at the facts we do have the lowest residential rates in Victoria.”

Cr Matthew Kirwan said Greater Dandenong had a challenging task of setting “reasonable” rates while requiring more community services and infrastructure than other councils.

He said Cr Dark’s objection was “illogical”.

“If we supported his concerns (and opposed the hardship policy), it would make matters worse.”

Under the hardship policy, residents can also apply for a waiver on interest on late payments.

Pensioners or unemployed residents who have been assessed as experiencing “severe financial hardship” by a financial counsellor may eligible for a payment deferral.

Businesses can apply for a payment deferral of up to two years.

In 2019-20, rates rose by the State Government-imposed cap of 2.5 per cent.