Councils ignore the Local Government Act to deny financial assistance to individuals but need no legal authority to discount business rates.
Councils are ignoring the Local Government Act and their own hardship policies by giving rate cuts to businesses instead of families.
Many Councils across Victoria have been publicising the financial assistance they are giving to small businesses which is funded partly by the State Government and partly by residential ratepayers.
But there is nothing in the Local Government Act to support rate cuts for for small businesses.
The Local Government Act refer to waivers for persons suffering financial hardship, not businesses.
Section 171 (A) states:
(1) A person who—
(a) is suffering financial hardship; or
(b)would suffer financial hardship if that person paid the full amount of a rate or charge for which he or she is liable
—may apply to a Council for the waiver of the whole or part of any rate or charge or of any interest imposed for late payment.
It's standard practice in Victoria for Councils to hide waivers from their ratepayers.
A report by the Victorian Ombudsman released mid-2021 states..
“The current laws (in the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic)) also give councils the power to defer or waive rates. Some councils do not tell people about these options. Some refuse to offer them or limit their availability.”
Maribyrnong Ratepayers designed a form for residents to use to apply for waivers in 2020; the first year of the Covid pandemic.
9 residents applied for waivers but none were given.
Maribyrnong’s ALP Mayor Michael Clarke vehemently declared during Council’s meeting in December 2020 that his Council would not waive rates because a resident might win tattslotto the next day.
At the same time, 1705 small businesses in Maribyrnong were given discounted rates.
That means their rate bill was reduced if they paid on time.
Residential ratepayers get no such discounts.
Neither the Local Government Act, nor the Council’s Hardship policy mentions discounts for businesses.
It’s important to stay focussed on the issue and not be confused by all the different names for rate cuts that are used in Legislation and policies.
So businesses are getting rate cuts that are not legislated, and residents are not getting rate cuts that are legislated.
How is it possible that a Council can keep vital information about waivers hidden from residents and yet give businesses rate discounts which have no standing in legislation?
Because Local Government Minister Shaun Leane is allowing the waiver secrecy to continue.
And the state government is concentrating on financial assistance to businesses and leaning on the federal government to provide assistance to individuals.
And ratepayers are ignored. Again.
Residents suffer lockdown, job losses and uncertainty while Councils deny them the very minor assistance provided by the Local Government Act.
Small, local businesses deserve support - but no more than residents. Especially when resident rate reductions are legislated and businesses rate cuts are not.