Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Wednesday, 28 November 2018) . . Page.. 4957 ..
We are not suggesting for one moment that there should not be a system of fines; there should be and they should serve to encourage compliance. But our concern relates to proportionality and the disproportionate impact fines can have on low income Canberrans.
The government’s Revenue Office is another entry point at which people struggling financially come into contact with the government. Sadly, my constituent work has shown me there are many problems in this system for people with financial issues, including the low community awareness of the rates deferral system for the over 65s, pensioner cardholders and some people in hardship and the frankly awful redesign of rates notices this financial year. That led many people to think the quarterly payment system had been withdrawn or, even worse than that, that the full-year amount was the quarterly amount and that their rates had suddenly gone up four times. There is also a lack of any information about deferrals or concessions on the rates notices.
People who ring the Revenue Office to ask about rates deferrals are being told they do not exist. People who ring the Revenue Office in clear financial hardship are not being referred to the financial counselling service the government funds to help people like that. If you are struggling financially you have to work hard to get access to the limited options in place to help you. The mindset of the government needs to shift to one where people are helped to access their entitlements as a step along the way to getting back on their feet financially.
My motion puts in place an action plan for the Revenue Office to shift its approach. Firstly, when people get their rates notices they should see the information they need. My motion will ensure that the notice for the next financial year includes information about concessions, deferments and hardship arrangements that can support low income people. It will restore the quarterly payment option to an obvious place on the front of the bill.
Secondly, people who reach out for information through the call centre or the website should be helped to understand their options and be linked to the supports already available. My motion calls for training for Revenue Office staff in how to recognise whether a customer is suffering from financial hardship, what help they may be eligible for and where they can be referred to for further support. It also calls for the hardship criteria currently not available to the community—I do not really know what they are—to be put on the Revenue Office website so that you can see if you are eligible.
Thirdly, the government needs to reach out proactively. My motion will see the government write to all concession ratepayers to let them know about deferrals. You would assume almost all concession ratepayers would be eligible.
My motion includes two other measures, but I want to focus on one that is particularly important. The ACT government’s concessions are generally limited to people with a federal government concession card; for example, people on the full-aged pension or Newstart. This is a great benefit for those who can get those concessions, but it misses two of the groups I highlighted earlier—that is, people on low wages and people on