MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council will extend its financial hardship policy until at least 28 February 2022.
The policy, moved at its 7 September meeting, will apply to all rateable properties and debtors who apply for relief.
The council also agreed not to raise interest on any outstanding balances for ratepayers and debtors until that date.
Officers will then report back to council which will decide whether or not to extend the relief period.
Revenue business support coordinator Ros Humphrey told councillors that having regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Victorian Ombudsman’s report, the rates hardship policy had been reviewed with added information around exceptional circumstances and the waiving of rates.
The council discussed options for extending the policy “considering the continuing impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic”.
Ms Humphrey said that at the 26 May 2020 meeting councillors broadened the policy to include all rateable properties on application and to also not raise interest on any outstanding balances until 31 December 2020.
She said with rate revenue accounting for 78 per cent of the shire’s income, any non-payment would seriously impact on the council’s cash flow and ability to provide services.
“The importance for council to continue to support the community is paramount,” she said.
“To ensure services can still be provided at the level required, it is important to encourage payment of rates in some form.
“Council’s preference is to not waive rates or charges on the basis it is considered inequitable for most ratepayers to subsidise the property assets of hardship applicants.
“A more equitable solution for the entire community is to defer rates and charges.
“However, council will consider waiving or reducing rates for certain ratepayers for their principal place of residence, where exceptional circumstances are experienced, and where severe financial impact can be demonstrated.”
Ms Humphrey said the policy had been updated to include waiving rates and exceptional circumstances with additional wording around domestic violence where finances may be frozen.
She said a new, “softer” debt collection format included sending SMS reminders and mildly-worded debt collection letters to “encourage ratepayers to enter into a suitable payment arrangement”.
“Council has not raised any interest during the pandemic and our recommendation is that we will not raise interest until the end of February 2022.”