West Wimmera Shire Council will offer relief on rates and charges to businesses and individuals struggling financially as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Payment plans, interest relief and deferment options have been put in place by the council to help people pay their rate and municipal charges.
The measures are part of a new COVID-19 Hardship Policy which the West Wimmera Shire Council adopted at its meeting this week.
Mayor Bruce Meyer said council anticipated that there would be a number of requests for rate and charges relief as a result of hardship originating from the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
The COVID-19 Hardship Policy provides a framework for reviewing those requests and providing relief where appropriate.
Cr Meyer said COVID-19 restrictions had had a negative economic impact throughout Victoria.
"This has led to many businesses closing their doors and widespread unemployment throughout the state and in West Wimmera Shire," he said.
"There are likely to be ratepayers and residents within the shire who are negatively affected by the current economic environment."
The policy aims to provide assistance to ratepayers impacted by COVID-19 without creating additional financial stress when the pandemic has been resolved.
Instead of deferring all financial responsibilities - which could cause further hardship when the pandemic is over and bills are owed - the council is encouraging ratepayers to set up a payment plan tailored specifically to their needs.
Payment plans will reduce the amount of debt owing by spreading payments into small manageable amounts. Council will also not charge interest on debt accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If a ratepayer is unable to enter in to a payment plan immediately, council will defer the debt accumulated during the pandemic and will not charge interest on this debt during the initial crisis period.
Anyone applying for assistance under this policy will be required to show a link between the COVID-19 shutdown and their financial position. Evidence includes demonstrating that a business has lost income, or that an individual has lost employment.
Cr Meyer said while the council did have an existing Rate Recovery and Financial Hardship Policy in place, it was not appropriate support for the current situation, for example it prevented businesses receiving assistance.
He said keeping businesses open was vital for the local economy.
"Providing hardship assistance to these business who are doing it tough might help people get through this lockdown period. It might mean some businesses won't have to permanently close," he said.
The policy will be reviewed in August, at which time council will decide whether the temporary policy needed to be extended or could lapse.
"This policy is designed to help our residents during this unique health emergency and the economic situation that has resulted," Cr Meyer said.
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