27 Sep 2017

People who owe Chch rates rises 41 percent

3:59 pm on 27 September 2017

There has been a huge increase in the number of Christchurch ratepayers struggling to pay their rates bills.

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council Photo: 123RF

For the year ending June this year about 24,000 people owed the council money, up 41 percent on the year before.

It comes as the council continues to increase rates to fund the city's post-earthquake rebuild.

It has increased average rates by just over 20 percent in the past three years, and an additional 5.46 percent hike is in store this year.

People outside Eastgate Mall in the city's east said they were struggling to keep up with their payments.

One resident, Dianne, said she had regularly been slapped with a 10 percent penalty for being two days late with her rates.

Asked if she thought it was fair for the council to continue putting up rates she said it wasn't, especially if it failed to get on with fixing broken infrastructure.

"There's still a lot of homes that are not fixed and here they're now going to be [spending] $10 million on a church."

The council voted this month to contribute $10 million to the rebuild of Christ Church Cathedral.

Another resident, Tui Joblin, said she had to pay rates for two years on an earthquake-damaged home she could no longer live in.

Each increase made it harder to keep up her payments, she said.

"Especially since the earthquakes ... can't do it, it's like struggling to even get the next round together.

"When you're self employed ... it's not exactly easy."

The recent run of rates increases meant the average homeowner in the city paid $48 a week to the council.

Christchurch Budget Service chair Don Johnson said that was a lot of money for somebody on a pension.

"The pension, if you're a married couple, you're talking $600 a week ... it's a fair percentage of your income that's gone."

The service was starting to see more retirees come through their doors looking for budgeting advice, as well as a general increase in people struggling to make ends meet since the earthquakes, he said.

Before the earthquakes 250 people a year would ask for help, now it was about 400 a year.

"We're running at at least one a day ... and these are just ordinary people."

Christchurch City Council transactions manager Paul Curgenven said the council was owed $13m in overdue rates, up nearly 14 percent on a year ago.

But there was a wide range for how much each individual owed.

"Some of them are over $100,000 [then] down to one cent. So when I say there's 24,000 ratepayers that are in arrears, many of them will owe us very little, between zero and $10."

In the year to June the council used debt collectors to recover overdue money 106 times, he said. Where money was still owed on the mortgage, they asked people's banks for the outstanding amount in about 1000 cases.

"The trouble with rates is it's expensive to get stuff through the court, so unless the rates get up to a reasonable amount - and I'm saying a reasonable amount is probably about $10,000 - it's probably hardly worth doing too much more about it until it gets to a figure where it's really worth pursuing."

Those who have fallen behind on their rates could have penalty fees wiped if they arranged to pay their bills off in instalments over a year, he said.

None of the city councillors contacted for comment returned calls. Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel was not available to be interviewed.

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