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Vulnerable ratepayers to be considered in rates policy

By Claire Ottaviano

THE City of Swan will go back to the drawing board to refine a proposed policy outlining how the City collects its overdue rates and fees.

In March, Council resolved to review the current process for collecting overdue rates and create a rates collection policy.

The new policy came back to Council for approval last week but was deferred for further consideration.

The motion by Cr Rashelle Predovnik asked for the policy to define categories of vulnerable ratepayers who might not be able to respond to rate notices as well as an alternative process and timeframe to recover rates debts from people in the vulnerable ratepayer category.

It also asked to improve communications with ratepayers whose homes the City plan to sell to recoup unpaid rates.

The City of Swan has sold two homes to recover debts from unpaid rates in the past 20 years and is currently owed $15 million in rates.

Cr Predovnik said while rates debt collection was important, it could not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

“I applaud Council for its willingness to look at ways to identify those in our system who are vulnerable much earlier on in the debt collection process,” she said.

“Including those in domestic violence situations, the long-term unemployed and those who can’t work because of illness, disability or other challenges.

“Not everyone ticks the boxes we currently have in our system.”

The Midland/Guildford Ward councillor door knocked residents on the City’s current sell list to see who had “slipped through the cracks” and why.

“Seeing our current process through their eyes was a game changer for me and I know we can do better here,” she said.

Warren Palmer, on behalf of Rev Stuart Fenner of the Midland Anglican Parish, spoke at the Council forum on June 2 against staff’s proposed policy.

“As someone who works in Midland providing support services for those experiencing homelessness and food insecurities I believe Council’s approach to selling homes of those who are in long term rates arrears is discriminatory and out of touch with community standards,” he said.

“While I appreciate there are instances where the sale of someone’s home is the only appropriate action to take… the debt collection policy should include processes to identify the vulnerable including those affected by divorce, terminal illness, domestic violence, long term unemployment and disability.”

Council will be briefed on the amended report in September.

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