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Pay up, says Council

Saturday, 21st March, 2015

By Andrew Robertson

A move by City Council to engage a debt collector to pursue residents for just-overdue rates has been described as callous.

Council yesterday confirmed around 1000 letters were sent to residents who have not paid their latest rates instalment ñ despite the payment only falling due at the end of February.

Previously, reminder letters were sent out after an initial instalment notice but this changed when Council adopted its debt recovery policy in August last year.  

“In-house produced reminder letters are no longer issued,” deputy general manager Sharon Hutch said.

Overdue rates affect Council’s cashflow and “limit the level and timing of works and services” Council can provide, according to Ms Hutch.

“Council has one of the worst Outstanding Rates Ratio in the State and this has contributed to our very weak financial rating with TCorp.”

She said overdue rates for the current quarter stood at $526,445.

The issuing of a single instalment notice would also result in “greater efficiencies and reduced costs”.

But BH Pensioners’ Association president Tex Morton said yesterday the decision to bring in debt collectors so early was harsh.

He said no other essential service provider engaged debt collectors to chase money so soon after bills were due, so why should Council. 

“It wouldn’t be appreciated by people because people are trying to budget and it’s a bit callous to get a letter from a debt collector saying ‘pay up or else’,” Mr Morton said.

The sight of a debt collector’s letter could be particularly distressful to pensioners, he said, some of whom had been paying rates for 50 years.

“Council are getting a bit harsh I think.” 

However, Ms Hutch said the letters were not supposed to alarm people, but to act as a reminder.

She said they were stated on the rates notice and in advertisements taken out in the BDT in December. 

“With the issuing of the debt collection recovery letters, it is a reminder for people to make payment; no legal action has been taken that would impact on credit ratings.

“Council also understand that some people do have difficulty in paying their rates and we are more than happy to talk to them about payment options.”

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