Pay rate debt in full, or...

IMAGINE finding out in a newspaper ad that your mother’s home was to be auctioned after being seized by the local council.

Natasha Young did just that after her mum’s name appeared on a list of rate defaulters published by Bellingen Shire Council.

“It’s been a very stressful time,” Ms Young said after seeing the name ‘Diane Ovenden’ published alongside an outstanding amount of $11,240.

“We really want to pay this money and we wanted to set up some sort of payment arrangement, but the council told us it was no longer negotiable because it was in the hands of the debt collectors. We were told we needed to pay the full amount within 14 days.”

Ms Ovenden is one of a number of shire pensioners who have unwittingly been caught up in this heavy-handed council action. Mayor Mark Troy said land sales were the absolute last resort after all other avenues to recoup payments had failed.

“Due process has been followed and history has shown that when a council takes this action, many of the debts are settled,” he said.

He said an auditor had recently highlighted the shire’s unacceptably high percentage of unpaid rates (9.1 per cent).

“Families can contact the council to make arrangements if they wish to pay the arrears,” said Cr Troy, which appears at odds with Ms Young’s experience.

The council’s manager of financial services, Susan Glasson, said people could make arrangements, but they had to be “suitable” to the council.

“We want people to take this seriously,” Ms Glasson said. “We are referring everyone to the debt collectors, who then discuss everything with us.”

For the Ovenden family, it is a tense wait following discussions with their bank.

“We remain hopeful of a positive result – it would be nice to keep Mum in her home,” Ms Young said.

The extraordinary sale of properties for which no arrangements have been made will be by public auction on February 19.

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