Still Waiting for Waivers 19 years after Section 171(A)

Updated: Mar 3

State MPs are still sweeping the whole issue of waivers for ratepayers under the carpet, 19 years after the Local Government Act in Victoria made it clear that ratepayers had a right to ask for all or part of their rates to be waived.

The latest rebuff came last week when RPV vice-president Kelvin Granger emailed all Upper House MPs seeking changes to the Local Government Act to force Councils to offer waivers to ratepayers suffering financial hardship.

Due to wishy-washy wording of Section 171(A) (a person may seek to have all or part of ….rates waived..”) Councils are under no obligation to tell ratepayers they can apply for waiver if they're facing financial hardship.

Not even during Covid.

Despite a petition to Parliament in 2019, an Ombudsman’s report last year and meetings with the Local Government Minister Shaun Leane, RPV has been repeatedly refused any commitment for financial relief for ratepayers who’ve lost their job during Covid or been too ill to work.

Neither the Minister nor Councils will even commit to telling ratepayers they can apply for waivers.

Maribyrnong Ratepayers’ Group conducted a social experiment in 2019, supplying their own forms to residents to apply for waivers. The Council rejected every application – after subjecting applicants to intrusive questioning about their personal and family finances. This is because Section 171(A) also allows Councils to ask applicants whatever they want and gives staff total control to refuse waivers.

So, when legislation was introduced to Parliament in February to amend several pieces of legislation, including the Local Government Act, RPV wrote to all 40 upper house MPs asking for some action on waivers.

The result: one meeting, one phone call, one written response and 37 automated email replies.

The written response is interesting because the staff of Dr Tien Kieu (ALP) were the only ones to seek a response from the Local Government Minister’s office regarding RPV’s plea for action.

Seven staff were copied in on the email along with two MPs and RPV received two written replies to the letter from two electorate officers, both in the same office, and saying the same thing.

Both replies assured us that the Government was committed to ‘addressing the Ombudsman’s findings’ – which is not the same as actually providing rate waivers for homeowners who need it.

RPV will keep calling for waivers. We remain hopeful that somewhere among Councils and MPs there will be someone willing to stand up and take action to help homeowners in need.

image: Banksy's wall art of a maid sweeping rubbish under a curtain to hide it.

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