Opinion by Cameron Brewer
The second quarterly instalment of rates for 2012/13 is due to be paid by 5pm on Monday. But more than 50,000 Aucklanders will be slammed with a 10% late penalty fee partly because no reminder to ratepayers has been communicated.
The council spends millions on public relations and marketing each year but staggeringly not one dollar has been spent on reminding ratepayers to pay their second instalment. Anyone would think the council is more interested in protecting its $20.6m expected in late rates penalty revenue this financial year, than providing a good faith reminder service to ratepayers.
Figures from the finance department reveal that 58,925 ratepayers were stung with a 10% penalty fee after missing the first instalment deadline of 30 August.
Many Aucklanders, who haven’t remembered or simply can’t afford to pay, will find their rates suddenly up a staggering 20 percent. That’s because over 133,000 of Auckland ratepayers have had rates increases this year at the full 10 percent cap, and now some of them face a further 10 percent in penalty fees for late payment.
It is disappointing that even the region-wide monthly council publication ‘Our Auckland’ which hit letterboxes last week does not mention that rates are due, nor does the homepage of the council’s website.
People have got to be personally responsible for paying their bills on time, but council also has a public service responsibility and has many channels to get a reminder out cost effectively. Interestingly only a few months ago the council paid $198,000 on a marketing campaign to get the political message out that rates were somehow “fairer all round” but then has done nothing to remind Aucklanders to actually pay their rates on time.
The council could reduce the number of Aucklanders forced to pay late penalties but given the extra revenue is worth over $20m per annum there seems to be little motivation.
The best way to minimise the numbers penalised is by reminding people to pay their rates on time as well as keeping rates affordable. However having over 10% of Auckland ratepayers paying late penalties is sadly seen by some as a good revenue stream. The council can do a lot better to inform its ratepayers and it should.
Cameron Brewer is an Auckland councillor