The Debt Management And Hardship Guidelines were issued in November 2018 to outline best practice approaches for councils to better manage ratepayer debt and respond to genuine hardship.
The Guidelines assist councils to develop proactive measures to ensure prompt payment, minimise default, follow up ratepayers, recover debts fairly, assess hardship claims and monitor debt.
Each council should adopt robust, fair and transparent policies and procedures outlining how they will communicate with ratepayers, collect monies owing, assess hardship claims and, where necessary, recover overdue payments to manage debt.
The Guidelines promote a range of strategies and actions councils can use to help ratepayers pay on time including:
- simplified rates notices including information in relevant languages;
- options for ratepayers to receive their rates notices by email and pay electronically;
- flexible payment options including weekly, fortnightly and monthly instalments as well as tailored plans;
- discounts to provide incentives for prompt payment in full;
- use of Centrepay as a voluntary way for people to pay their rates directly from their Centrelink payments;
- greater discounts for pensioners facing hardship; and
- a ‘stop the clock’ approach to suspend debt recovery, legal action and interest accrual while a ratepayer’s hardship application is awaiting determination or while they are complying with a payment plan.
The Guidelines, which are part of the NSW Government’s Civil Justice Strategy, have been issued by the Office of Local Government under the Local Government Act. All NSW councils must take them into account when developing and implementing debt management and hardship policies and procedures.