Council considers new policy
STRUGGLING pensioners who cannot afford to keep up with soaring rates and charges now face losing their homes under a new policy under consideration by Lismore City Council.
Councillors agreed to take the first step to changing the policy for the sale of land for unpaid rates on Tuesday night, voting to put it on public display for 28 days before a final decision.
The existing policy, which has been in place since May 2009 says homes owned by pensioners cannot be sold unless there are "exceptional circumstances" that are reported to council.
The exhibition period legitimises and adds to a change quietly voted in last October, ahead of the council's decision to sell the South Lismore home of invalid pensioner Christine Anderson to recoup unpaid rates and interest totalling $16,000.
This sparked community outrage and was later overturned by the NSW Supreme Court, which ruled the council did not specify any exceptional circumstances and that Ms Anderson had a reasonable expectation her home would not be sold under existing council policy.
The other major change to the policy means the final decision to sell a pensioner's home could not be taken by the general manager in isolation but would have to be ratified by the councillors.
But under the proposed policy, any mooted sale must be ratified by the council before it proceeds.
Councillor Gianpiero Battista, the only councillor who openly opposed the proposed policy, said he was concerned the council had not learnt any lessons from the sale of Ms Anderson's home.
Mayor Jenny Dowell said the proposed policy was the best outcome for the council and all ratepayers.
"I think it's saying councillors need to take greater responsibility here and be fully aware of the implications and the individual circumstances," Cr Dowell said.
However Cr Battista said he's "concerned" the policy will be tough on society's most vulnerable.
"The old policy was in place to expressly avoid selling pensioners houses but now with this policy you can because the legislation allows for the sale of houses for unpaid rates," Cr Battista said.