ex gratia
Local Government

What 20 local government leaders taught me about COVID-19

March 24, 2023

Last week, my team and I spoke with more than 20 local government leaders from around Australia.

The conversations had a recurring theme: there is no vaccine for the systemic disruption COVID continues to have on policy makers around the nation.

Here in Sydney, council leaders are undergoing a paradigm shift.

Only weeks ago, anything above zero cases was considered an unacceptable outcome. Now, we are mentally preparing communities to see cases in the many thousands before Christmas.

In regional centres, cracks are also beginning to show.

Reduced consumption of goods and services in the major cities are leaving farmers with truck loads of unsold produce.

When goods can be sold, they enter a disrupted supply chain; reaching a buyer who no longer wants the goods after they are days or even weeks late.

In tourist areas – despite local demand replacing international dollars for the bulk of 2020 – things are once again strained.

Lockdowns in major cities are preventing seasonal traffic – leading to intense economic conditions for residents in these communities.

However it is not all doom and gloom!

From the conversations we’ve had here at Payble – we see local governments providing much needed relief through three areas of policy optimization:

1. Deliver direct relief for those who need it most

The effects of COVID-19 have been hard enough; let alone the extra financial implications for ratepayers around the country. We’ve been proud to hear stories of councils like City of Ryde, offering direct rates relief to who who need it most – in their case up to $400.

Many councils, like Sunshine City Council, are also permitting residents to enter into interest free payment arrangements – lowering the immediate stress of an outstanding payment.

2. Defer sending anyone to debt recovery

It is in the interests of debt collection companies to do whatever it takes to ensure outstanding balances are paid. This can contribute to rising stress and anxiety levels in households already doing it tough. I was pleased to hear of the work being done by Melton City Council who have engaged call centre agents from collection companies to kindly pass on information about how to apply for hardship relief & extensions, rather than enacting any formal recovery efforts.

3. Enable ratepayers to enter a flexible payment plan

Much like the growth of buy-now, pay later services in the consumer market, I forecast a similar trend to extend to the way rates are settled in LGAs over the next 3-5 years. Open banking will only catalyze this change & I think more councils should be looking at how they can offer payment plans that reduce the financial burdens in the short term, favouring customer loyalty & satisfaction in the long term.

Even though COVID has presented policy makers with an unprecedented challenge – local government authorities around Australia can remedy the symptoms by using technology to create experiences for ratepayers which are customized at scale to the individual circumstances of each household.

This is why I’ll continue to keep working to bring local governments & their residents together seamlessly through what we’re building here at Payble. If both parties can communicate proactively before rates go into arrears versus retrospectively under the status quo – we’ll see collections & customer satisfaction improve to make unpaid bills a thing of the past!

Look out for my next issue of Ex Gratia next month!


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