Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Wednesday, 28 November 2018) . . Page.. 4981 ..
Whilst the ACT government does provide a number of concessions for pensioners, those that are unemployed and others, many low income earners often miss out. A home owner on $50,000 a year may not necessarily be classified as a low income earner, but when rates, mortgage repayments, utilities, food and other bills are deducted, this leaves very little room for disposable income or for other charges, rates and taxes. A rise in rates may lead to a family being unable to afford sports registration for their children or missing out on a Christmas present purchase. Whilst this may seem trivial to some, this makes a big difference for these families.
Ms Le Couteur’s motion focuses predominantly on making Canberrans aware of the concessions available to them, and the Canberra Liberals support this. It is important that the most vulnerable in our society are aware of the financial assistance that is available to them.
However, as noted in Ms Le Couteur’s motion, this principle is undermined by the changes to the layout of rates notices that have been sent this year. My office has received many pieces of correspondence about these changes, with many Canberrans stating that they are misleading and deceitful. I also note that most of the feedback by residents given to ABC radio last week when this issue was canvassed was also quite negative. The government should not be trying to deceive Canberrans into paying their rates up-front. There is an option to pay in instalments, and people will choose to do this for many reasons. The Canberra Liberals support this motion’s intent to call on the government to redesign the rates notices further in order to ensure that Canberrans understand that a quarterly payment option is still available to everyone.
To further compound this problem, the government’s concessions webpage does not have mention of a rates deferral scheme. This scheme is open to many people. However, the eligibility criteria outlined on this page are so brief that many people would not be aware that they are eligible for a deferment. In fact, the ACT Revenue Office’s webpage that ratepayers are directed to does not provide any mention of the deferral scheme.
To add to this difficulty, those who are aware of the scheme have a form that says that income information is required. This is not a requirement for people aged over 65. Everybody aged over 65 is open to this scheme. How many people have been deterred from applying for the deferral because either they feel that their income exceeds what they think might be the threshold or they are just not comfortable to pass on their income information?
This is not a hard problem to fix. We raised this issue with the government months ago, and as of Monday the problem still existed. I hope that the paper form which can be downloaded regarding the rates deferral—
Mr Barr: On the Revenue Office website?
MR COE: I can send that through to you, Mr Barr, rather than have this conversation. That should not have the income information on it.