Across Australia, capital and regional cities have experienced spectacular increases in home values over the past few years. While municipal councils attempt to adjust their rates so that such spikes are not a huge burden on ratepayers, the fact remains that most of us are paying a great deal more to our local government representatives than we did 10 or 20 years ago.
For many retirees, the extra burden of higher council rates can be stressful. But there are ways to lessen the pain.
Not all municipalities are equal. Some are more sensitive to their ratepayers’ plights than others.
If you are struggling to pay your rates, there are some propositions you can put to your council.
However, it is crucial that you reach out to your municipality as soon as you begin to struggle with paying your rates. Because if you don’t, unpaid rates remain a debt on your property, regardless of any change of ownership. If rates or charges remain overdue for more than three years without an arrangement made to pay the amount owing, the council may obtain a court order enabling it to sell or assume ownership of the land to recover the debt.
Depending on which municipality you live in, your council may be able to help you with paying rates by:
- choosing to defer or waive all or part of unpaid rates in cases of genuine financial hardship
- allowing you to apply for a waiver or deferral if you are likely to suffer hardship through paying your rates. Consult your council in advance of making an application to find out about their policy
- waiving part of your rates if you are a concession cardholder. The minimum amount of the waiver is set by your state government and indexed. However, individual councils may decide to increase the amount waived in some instances.
If you think your property has been valued too high by your council, you can object to the valuation.
However, the best way of managing your council rates may be to set up a payment plan. If you cannot afford to pay the total amount or even the instalments, contact your municipality and suggest what you can afford to pay each month. Some councils will accept as little as $50 a month.
Of course, this small amount will not cover what you are expected to pay. So your total obligation will increase, year on year. When your house is sold, your council will be able to recover any rates still due. But if it helps you save some costs today so that you can make the most of what little income you receive, it may be worth it.
Not all councils are equal. In some states/territories you can compare different municipalities to work out if you are getting value for the council rates you are paying. Check these out:
The Australian Capital Territory has no municipalities.
Do you think your council is overcharging you for the services you receive? Would you be happy to go on a payment plan to reduce what you pay for your rates today and allow the council to claim amounts owing when your property is sold?