A Labor mayor and/or Labor councillors elected to the Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC) would review council debt collection practices to ensure they meet the highest standards of community service.

Mayoral candidate David Grace said today the NSW Office of Local Government (OLG) specifically introduced a model debt recovery and hardship policy in November 2018 which ESC has failed to implement.

“We will follow up the OLG model for debt and hardship if elected to office,” the Eurobodalla Labor for Council mayoral candidate said. “Eurobodalla Labor is committed to the Labor principle that we look after the most vulnerable in our community.”

The Debt Management and Hardship Guidelines outline best practice approaches for councils to better manage ratepayer debt and respond to genuine hardship.

“These 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,” Mr Grace said.

“They encourage local governments to adopt flexible payment options including weekly, fortnightly and monthly instalments as well as tailored plans; 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,” he said.

It appears ESC uses a Sydney debt collection company in certain instances such as recovering overdue rates and other payments, including from vulnerable ratepayers.

“We’ve heard of instances where the debt collectors issue a warning letter, followed by court application of debt 7-14  days later,” Mr Grace said “which adds up to $700 or more to the rates arrears.

“When the OLG has a fit for purpose and enhanced process to manage debt and hardship which it encourages all councils to adopt, it seems unfortunate Eurobodalla Council has ignored this approach.

“Whether you’re an age pensioner doing it tough with your rates, or someone on a Centrelink benefit and the bills have piled up, or been out of work without financial support because of COVID, finding yourself in debt is a very real concern.

“Matters such as rates arrears for people on pensions and benefits need to be treated with care.

“We will certainly be reviewing the practices of the council to ensure that we meet the highest standards of service to our community,” he added.

The Labor candidates in addition to David Grace are Maureen Searson, Matthew Findlay, Claire McAsh, Deirdre Russack and Jack Egan.