TAMWORTH Regional Council has moved to allay fears it is squandering ratepayers’ money, after a confronting administration change alarmed residents.
Homeowners who default on their rates payments can now expect a letter from debt recovery specialists SR Law, rather than a gentle tap on the shoulder from the council, which had, up until recently, been the normal process.
The Leader was alerted to the change after an 80-year-old Manilla man received a letter from the law firm following a long stay in hospital.
He said he was “bloody angry” when he saw the letter – which he believed to be a letter of demand – prompting him to write to council, suggesting it look at his payment history and next time send a reminder notice before spending ratepayers’ money instructing solicitors.
The Leader spoke to a number of other concerned homeowners who claimed they had also been sent a letter from SR Law instead of the council’s usual follow-up notice.
Upon viewing the letter, it is easy to see how many were mistaken.
While the letter’s subject line clearly states “Tamworth Regional Council rates payment reminder”, it looks akin to a letter of demand and, upon reading it, there is no masking the blunt legal talk.
Tamworth Regional Council corporate and governance director Robert Charlesworth yesterday confirmed the council had instructed SR Law to send out instalment reminder notices on its behalf.
But he was quick to placate residents, saying the community was not footing the bill.
“The instalment reminder notice doesn’t cost anything. The letter of demand doesn’t cost anything,” Mr Charlesworth said.
“It’s only when they go to a statement of claim or summons that they bring in solicitors’ fees, and then the cost attributable to the claim is charged to the defaulting customer, not to council.”
Mr Charlesworth said the council was considering ways in which to tone down the reminder notice, in the wake of the community backlash.
“We are making suggestions in relation to changing the wording, so it’s clearer that it is not a letter of demand, just a reminder notice,” he said.