Shire adds extra time to pay ‘hardship’ debts


MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council will extend its financial hardship policy until 31 August to help ratepayers hit hard by the coronavirus.

This will apply to all rateable properties – not just primary residences – and is for debtors seeking relief.

No interest will be charged on any outstanding balances until after that date.

The council does not propose writing off any debts owing outside of requests for the waiving of interest. Debt will still be due and payable, but with greater flexibility offered on repayments.

The council adopted the revised hardship policy moved by Cr Antonella Celi and seconded by Cr Bryan Payne at its 26 May meeting. It included a direction that officers report back to councillors on the “implementation and impact of the adjusted hardship policy”.

Revenue management team leader Vanessa Lawless proposed temporary support for financial relief for fees or rates and charges raised in the 2019-20 financial year – and 2020-21 if required – without waiving any rates.

“This applies to individuals and businesses who require assistance, having suffered from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and are in addition to the existing hardship policy for rates currently in place for owner-occupiers,” she said.

In her report she said the global pandemic was declared on 30 January and a state of emergency was declared in Victoria on 16 March.

“In times of crisis it is important to remember that council still requires cash flow to deliver critical services to the community, however, it is also recognised that the … pandemic will cause significant financial hardship for members of the community,” she said.

“The proposed short-term changes will provide direction to … officers when collecting debts … and ensure council takes into consideration the financial hardship facing debtors caused by COVID-19.

“Council will endeavour to assist those in financial hardship, while ensuring it does not jeopardise the funding of its operations.”

Debtors will be encouraged to set up a payment plan to reduce the amount owing after the pandemic. Ms Lawless said the “total deferral of all financial responsibilities due to an event can cause a secondary bout of financial stress when the event has concluded and bills are owed”.

A report on council’s cash-flow will be included council’s quarterly finance report.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 9 June 2020


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