Problems paying your rates

Ask for help if you need it

If you are going through a tough time financially, it can be tempting to prioritise paying your mortgage and other bills over your council rates. But there can be serious consequences if you don't pay your rates on time. Here we explain what to do if you are struggling to pay your rates.

Negotiate repayments

If you are having problems paying your rates on time, contact your council straight away to discuss your situation. Most councils have a hardship policy to help ratepayers who are experiencing financial difficulties. 

Depending on your circumstances, the council might:

  • allow you to pay your rates by instalments
  • write off any interest charges on overdue rates
  • defer part or all of your rates and charges for a certain period of time
  • waive, reduce or defer your rates if a land revaluation caused them to increase, and this has caused you substantial hardship.

Smart tip

If you are a concession card holder, you may be eligible to receive a rebate or discount on your council rates. Contact your local council for details.

Most councils will ask you to put your request for hardship in writing.

When considering your request, the council will look at:

  • the amount you owe
  • how long the amount has been unpaid
  • your personal circumstances
  • your payment history as a ratepayer.

Case study: Franco and Joy seek hardship assistance

Lady With Short Dark Hair Man With NecklaceFranco and Joy bought their home 9 years ago and always paid their council rates on time. But when Franco was suddenly made redundant, they struggled to pay their bills on time with only one income. When their quarterly rates notice came in, they ignored it because they didn't have the money to pay it.

When the rates became overdue, penalty interest started accruing on the amount they owed, and the council sent a notice advising of their recovery action if the overdue amount was not paid. Franco and Joy called their local council to discuss their options, and were asked to lodge a request for financial hardship.

They wrote to the council to explain their situation, and requested permission to pay their rates in small, regular instalments for a few months until Franco found work.

The council agreed to these repayments, on the condition that Franco and Joy paid their instalments on time for the agreed period.

Why you need to pay your rates

If you do not pay your council rates on time, the council is entitled to charge you a penalty which is usually interest on the amount that you owe.

Smart tip

Make sure your local council has your current postal address details. This will ensure you always receive your rates on time.

If you don't pay your overdue rates, or don't contact the counciil to discuss other options, they can start legal action against you. If this happens, the court filing fee and other costs will be added to the amount you already owe, which will make it even more difficult to get back on track.

If you get a notice advising that the council is filing in court, seek legal advice immediately. Free legal advice is available in each state and territory.

Can the council sell your property if you don't pay your rates?

As a last resort, councils have the right to sell your property to recover unpaid rates, fines and charges.
Restrictions apply, and the length of time the rates need to have been overdue before this happens varies between states and territories.

If you receive a notice from the council about this, get urgent legal advice.

Get help from a financial counsellor

If you are having trouble paying your rates and keeping up with your bills a financial counsellor may be able to help you.

Financial counselling is a free, confidential service to help you sort out your money problems. A financial counsellor can explain your options, help negotiate payment arrangements, or refer you to other services that can help you.

Your council rates are just as important as your mortgage payments. If you can't pay them by the due date, contact your council early to discuss your options.

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Last updated: 06 Oct 2017