FCRC recently made its submission to the review of council rating systems, on behalf of Victorian financial counsellors. We received considerable feedback from our members raising concerns about how councils respond to vulnerable people in the community experiencing hardship resulting from rate charges and rate arrears. These issues are essential to address if Victoria’s rating system is to be fair and equitable for everyone in the community.
We included the following recommendation in our submission:
The State Government, in consultation with peak bodies and consumer organisations develop and introduce mandated hardship and related processes for Councils to adopt and implement, including the following features:
- -Consistent, humane and best practice hardship response – incorporating principles of transparency and accessibility, flexibility, fairness and responsiveness to individual circumstances.
- -Specific provisions for response to family violence circumstances and support for vulnerable people dealing with challenges such as mental health, family violence, low incomes, gambling, substance use, and language and cultural barriers.
- -Standards for council use of debt collection companies, to ensure debt collectors used by councils comply with the law and all relevant codes and standards.
- -Promotion of early intervention engagement processes including strategies to support people who are identified as at risk of falling into arrears, and appropriate referrals to financial counselling support.
- -Provision in flexible responses for options, including debt moratoria, affordable payment plans that take account of individual circumstances, debt waivers, deferral of interest accrual or waiving of interest charges, flexible payment schedules, access to Centrepay as a payment method.