Collections make initial dent in Hilltops Council's outstanding debts

Collections make initial dent in Hilltops Council's outstanding debts

Over the course of a month, Hilltops Council has seen an improvement on its outstanding rates and debts of around $900,000.

In a report to council at its Ordinary Meeting on August 25, it was indicated that, as of July 31, the total overdue amount for water charges had fallen to $704,506, down $519,053 from the $1,223,559 owing at June 30.

While in the same time frame, the total overdue amount for Sundry Debtors had dropped to $2,232,240, down $441,564 from the $2,673,803 owing at June 30.

Speaking to the report Councillor Chris Manchester commended the staff on the improvement.

"I don't know if any other councillors picked it up but certainly water usage charge and the Sundry Debtors there's an improvement," he said.

"So hopefully that trend can keep going, but that's the first time I've seen a significant improvement."

With council recently engaging an external agent as its new debt collectors, Cr Tony Wallace questioned the accuracy of the numbers and process implemented to collect debts.

However council's Chief Financial Officer, Courtney Taylor, said the majority of the current figures related to the current year's levy.

"We are fairly confident in the figures," she said.

"We are doing reconciliations as we speak to ensure that the remainder are correct and any we identify are being rectified as soon as we possibly can.

"The process for debt recovery has been to identify all properties that have outstanding rates and charges and from there refer through either as a reminder notice, if it's a recent outstanding debt or charge, or through to our recovery agent for older outstanding charges.

"Bringing those in and getting payment arrangements or full payments in place."

Cr Wallace also questioned the costings of using an external agent to collect the debts.

"Debts for erroneous charges and rates that aren't actually meant to be paid, do we have to pay for debt collectors for that?" he said.

"I'm asking if we have to pay the debt collector if council makes instructions to collect debts that aren't actually owed.

"Does the debt collector still have to be paid for the work they have done?"

Ms Taylor said council was only charged once legal actions were launched.

"I think we would be identifying any erroneous debts prior to it actually reaching court," she said.

In response Cr Wallace said council should be finding those charges before even engaging debt collectors.

"Hopefully you would be finding erroneous debts before you sent out or engaged debt collectors in the first place," he said.

"But obviously that's not the case."

Cr Matthew Stadtmiller said he had received some feedback concerning the way debt notices had been delivered.

"Some people who are being chased for outstanding rates and charges are going to addresses where the addresses is wrong and the name is correct or they or are getting it via email," he said.

"I've had a complaint that the person who received it by email thought it was a scam.

"So we might need to make sure our debt collectors are ensuring they have the correct information, names and addresses and appear legitimate.

"Maybe don't go down the email path where you get lots of spam and so forth."