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#238016 28-Jun-2018 20:12
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My local council wants to charge me for late payment on my rates. The issue I have is I never received the installment notice (via email)


They say they sent the eInvoice but I cannot find it anywhere (inbox, spam, deleted etc)


Can they penalise me when there is no proof I ever received the invoice ?

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  #2045773 28-Jun-2018 21:30
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Was this an initial payment for the year, or an installment payment? If it's an installment payment you would've had a schedule.


Email is a tricky issue, because delivery can't be guaranteed, that's why I use direct debit. 


In this case I think the council can do whatever they want, as they set the rules. Your best bet is to ask nicely, point out email isn't always reliable and sometimes things go to spam, and to ask to go back to paper.


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  #2045792 28-Jun-2018 23:07
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     >Your best bet is to ask nicely, point out email isn't always reliable and sometimes things go to spam,<


Yep, go to Council offices and ask to speak to Rates Collection Manager/Supervisor … not a counter clerk.  If you have a history of paying on time and have owned the property for a few years, point out that previous Rates have all been paid on time … as said above, point out that whilst email is great for paperless environmental purposes, it can go awry and that although you are vaguely aware of the rates due dates, you rely (like most of us) on the Council's invoice as a reminder.


Offer to settle outstanding amount immediately, and they should waive the penalty.

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  #2045806 29-Jun-2018 01:02
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Also find out if they have a legal ability to charge a late fee. They probably do but it is a good idea to check anyway as it occupies their time and makes them more likely to waive the fee. 


I have had an incident similar where a company didnt send me an invoice because they made a spelling mistake with my email address, charged a late fee and I disputed it after paying the original invoice. Their stupidity or lack of checking got it passed to a collection agency. This is where it got fun. 


The collection agency called and asked me to confirm some information over the phone. I stated I dont give my private and confidential information to strangers over the phone. Oh boy was the guy confused as to what to do. I was saying yes my name is ray taylor, I am the one you are looking for, but i will not give you my date of birth or address so you can confirm my identity so as to continue the discussion. 


I was able to say that they should have their client contact me directly via email and explain how my private and confidential information was leaked to a 3rd party without my consent and if i didnt hear from them, the privacy commissioner's office would be contacted by myself. The power retailers lawyer was on the phone to me the next day apologizing as the Orcon case was still recent. 




Anyhow i suspect you wont have that sort of luck with the city council as they can enact bylaws allowing them to charge rates. But hey, if lower hutt forgets to enact a bylaw allowing them to charge parking fines, your council may have forgotten to cover late fees. 


And as long as you are disputing the invoice, it cant be passed to a collection agency and there isnt really much the council can do - short of small claims tribunal* which simply isn't worth their time. 


"I am disputing these charges and will not be paying the late fees" 




*I am not a lawyer, and can only provide advice as per my experience as a small businessman that charges late fees when necessary to clients. Dealing with a business involves a terms of trade contract. Dealing with a council involves actual laws. 

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Uber Geek

  #2045809 29-Jun-2018 01:28

Check the consumer guarantees act also. As unless it has an exemption for councils, and I'm assuming that you are a residential ratepayer. Then they can only charge reasonable late fees. Offer something like $10 assuming that it is less than 1 billing cycle overdue.

It is also illegal to mislead someone over their rights under the consumer guarantees act. So if they say that it doesn't apply, ask them to show you the law that says that it doesn't.

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  #2045905 29-Jun-2018 09:50
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Did you somehow think perhaps you wouldn't be paying rates this year? You could have been a little pro-active.

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  #2045909 29-Jun-2018 09:58
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Not sure if they can penalize you, but consider for many years bills were sent by snail mail with no proof of delivery and late fees were charged.


I suspect you have a contract and the invoice is more of a reminder letter in this case.


However as others have suggested go talk to someone at the council, plead your sob story and promise never to do it again.
Worked for me recently with a missed CC invoice that Gmail decided suddenly to treat as spam after a year of no issues - late fees waived.

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  #2045913 29-Jun-2018 10:03
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As @Rickles has said, go and speak to them nicely, point out your payment history etc. and they'll likely wave it. Have seen it done plenty of times.


I'm not sure if your council offers it but see if they can do a fortnightly direct debit. Our council offers this and now its set and forget and comes out with the other bills.

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Ultimate Geek

  #2045958 29-Jun-2018 11:29
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Direct debit is definitely the way to go for rates. You always have to pay the rates, so why make it more than 0 hassle to get it done. 


Our council allows you to avoid a late payment fee if you then pay your annual rates at once. Could be an option too. 

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  #2045980 29-Jun-2018 12:01
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Christchurch City Council has an explicit policy that penalties can be waived for occasional infractions by those with a good history. Yours may too



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  #2046019 29-Jun-2018 13:11
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This is why invoices should always be sent with trackable download links instead of just pdf attachments.

We had this issue all the time, but now it's just a matter of "well actually you downloaded the invoice on xx date". We then also have a rule that if a download link hasn't been activated with 10 days, a second email gets sent, and then another 5 days later, a staff member will call the client.

If I can have that in a small business (10 staff), surely a council can do the same.

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  #2046023 29-Jun-2018 13:20
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If one knows rates are due at certain times of the year (and every home owner knows it, surely), I'd expect that on note receiving the invoice one would seek clarification from the council and perhaps a copy.

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  #2046039 29-Jun-2018 14:08
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I wouldn't think you'd have any rights here, other than the goodwill of the council to give you a chance ( which is possible if you explain yourself well and have a good credit history). 


I know my rates are due on Feb 28th next year, and you should know when yours are due with or without a statement.


If you only just bought your house, you should have found out stuff like when your rates are due.  It would have been covered in the final settlement too when you prorate the rates. 



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  #2046042 29-Jun-2018 14:14
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With a DD set up the invoice is important when the amount can vary but rates are set for the year with the amount of each installment. Then you just need a calendar reminder to ensure that there's enough in the account.


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  #2046152 29-Jun-2018 18:20
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Hi all thank you for the replies smile


I will going forward set up a direct debit which previously I dismissed as I assumed it require signing pieces of paper but alas it appears paperless. If so I'll use that


@aredwood - I searched the CGA for keywords of penalty, penalties and fees and couldn't find anything


The council in question (WCC) does have a waiver policy but they say it doesn't apply the main reason being I paid late one time previously although that time I paid of my own volition and without request as I forgot I had the email.


Note the penalty is applied I week after due date and without notice i.e. no warning correspondence. I would have thought a reminder email to say you will be penalised if you don't pay would be more customer focused


I question too 10% free on 7 days late seems heavy, that said like many govt organisations my council don't need to compromise their position since I can't go anywhere else :(


I plan to not pay the penalty (as I have already paid the orginal amount) and see if the Aug ebill has the same issue. Note it was a hotmail address so I wonder whether it left the WCC (I assume it did) and wasn't send on from the Microsoft servers to the my address (very unlikely)

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Uber Geek

  #2046157 29-Jun-2018 18:45

The CGA is not limited to only penalty fees. This is no different to those companies who send out parking breach notices for parking on private land. The penalties claimed must be reflective of actual costs incurred. So there is unlikely to be a special section of the CGA dealing only with penalties.

So you only need to see if the council has an exemption in the CGA, or another law. Check the rating powers act also.

What is the actual $ amount of the penalty? As the courts charge $30 for the first stage of their collection process on fines. If it is way more than that, it would be hard for the council to argue that their fees are reasonable. Despite being a lot higher than what the Ministry of Justice has decided is reasonable for itself.

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