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Local Government Minister must act immediately on Ombudsman’s Report

The Ombudsman has released a scathing report into the way local councils respond to ratepayers in financial hardship.

The investigation concluded that despite an expectation that the public sector act in the public interest, the local government sector lags behind banks and utility companies when it comes to best practice management of financial hardship.

The investigation found a number of common but unjustifiable council practices including:

  • failing to inform ratepayers of all their options

  • refusing to consider waivers and deferrals

  • charging high penalty interest to people in financial hardship

  • heavy reliance on debt collectors to communicate with ratepayers, and a failure to use discretion where ratepayers are struggling with other challenges including mental illness and family violence.

The report also notes that in 2020 the Andrews Labor Government committed to regulation in this area but that “…the practical details – what regulations should say and how change should be achieved – remain undecided.”

The Andrews Labor Government has no plan for the economic recovery for Victorians post the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead it has announced it will hike up a number of taxes that will hurt all Victorians, including Land Tax that will ultimately increase rent for small businesses and see residential prices increase.

The Liberal Nationals announced a freeze on small business local government charges if elected next year.

Labor’s approach to the economy is to tax it so they can spend it. The Liberal Nationals’ view is you have to reduce tax burden, back small business and create jobs. That's how you grow the economy and a growing economy will balance the budget.

Comments attributable to Shadow Minister for Local Government, David Morris:

“The Ombudsman’s Report demonstrates that despite being well aware of the problem, the government has done nothing to stand up for ratepayers experiencing financial hardship.

“Victorians have had enough of empty promises from Daniel Andrews, they want action. For too long Labor has simply kicked this can down the road.

“The Andrews Labor Government must act immediately to implement minimum standards for rates hardship relief across the state, place a cap on councils’ capacity to charge penalty interest, and require every council to publish in full the options available to ratepayers suffering financial hardship.

“The Andrews Labor Government has no plan, only the Liberal Nationals offer a safe pair of hands and a post-COVID-19 plan.”

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