Pensioners and people struggling with cost of living pressures are set to catch a break on paying their rates.
With a potential 36.3 per cent rate hike on the cards for next year, Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) is planning to change its ratepayer hardship and pensioner policies.
According to a report going to councillors at their December meeting, the changes will make these policies "better tailored to address the specific needs of impacted property owners".
If approved, both policies will be placed on public exhibition for 28 days before heading back to councillors for formal adoption next year.
Ratepayers Hardship Policy
The Draft Ratepayers Hardship Policy outlines how a ratepayer with "acute financial difficulties" can request a review of their rates.
If the ratepayer applies for the review due to sudden unemployment or ill health, the draft policy says TRC will take a "stop-the-clock" approach while their rates are being reviewed.
Reviews are conducted by three members of council's senior management team who will decide whether to provide rate relief on an individual case-by-case basis.
The draft policy doesn't specify how much relief might be offered, and a report to councillors says this ambiguity is needed so council can be flexible.
"The policy doesn't include specific detail with regards to what council will allow as each ratepayer's circumstances are different and need to be dealt with accordingly," the report says.
If a ratepayer isn't satisfied with the outcome of their review they can appeal the decision and it will go to councillors directly in a closed council meeting.
The ratepayer would then be informed of council's decision within 30 days of the confidential meeting.
The council report says in addition to rates relief, TRC provides referrals to other support services which "provide free, tailored expert advice to help resolve legal or financial issues".
Ratepayers Pensioner Policy
The Draft Ratepayers Pensioner Policy outlines options and support available to eligible pensioners struggling to pay their rates.
These options include "flexible" payment plans, waiving interest on charges less than a year old, and making sure pensioners get the best possible rebates "even when an eligible pensioner enters an aged care facility".
The draft policy also states TRC will not pursue legal action against eligible pensioners with outstanding debts "except for exceptional circumstances" and only after a review by council's senior management team.
A report on the draft pensioner policy says the changes should have a "minimal" impact on the amount of money council gets from rates.
"Council's cash flow might be negatively impacted due to extended timeframes for payment however the offset is that those property owners who are experiencing financial difficulty will be better placed to make smaller regular payments to ensure the debt against their property is reduced over time," the report says.
Councillors will vote on the changes at their next meeting on December 12, 2023.