15-40 – Recovery of outstanding Water Charges

What’s new or changing

  • The NSW Ombudsman has advised that some councils are restricting or severing residential tenants’ water supply to pursue outstanding water charges owed by landowners, whether in accordance with or contrary to the council’s existing debt recovery policies.
  • In each of the cases examined by the Ombudsman, sections 560 and 561 of theLocal Government Act 1993 were either incorrectly applied or the council’s policies did not appropriately provide that water restriction or disconnection affecting a tenant should only occur as an option of last resort and after the tenant is given a reasonable opportunity to comply with a notice under section 569 of the Act.

What this will mean for your council

  • Councils are asked to review their debt recovery policies to ensure compliance with the Act and to safeguard against unfair impacts on tenants while councils pursue debts owed by landowners.

Key points

  • In the case of a tenanted property, in the first instance councils should only pursue the debt directly with the landowner and, where necessary, take legal action against the landowner.
  • Councils are not to seek payment of rates and charges from tenants that landowners are liable for, unless provided for in s569 of the Act.
  • Councils must take reasonable steps to identify whether a property is tenanted before considering restricting water supply, for example by improving notices about pending water restrictions which are sent to the property to strongly encourage any tenants to contact the council.
  • A council is not to restrict or disconnect water when it becomes aware that the property is tenanted, including when the council becomes aware that the property is tenanted in the course of attending the property to restrict or disconnect the water.
  • A council should only restrict or disconnect water as an option of last resort, after it has issued a notice to the tenant under s569 and a reasonable opportunity is given to the tenant to comply with the notice.
  • Councils should update their debt recovery policies and procedures to reflect the above and make these policies and procedures publicly available.

Where to go for further information

  • Council Circular 08-69: Recovery of Outstanding Water Charges from Residential Tenants, which is available on the Office’s website (
  • NSW Ombudsman’s Office: Phone: (02) 9286 1000 Email: Fax: (02) 9283 2911

Tim Hurst
Acting Chief Executive