Council rates increase proportionate
Rates—whether increase in rates levied was reasonable—whether incidence of rates levied on rural coastal residents was discriminatory
Every year, around the time Councils set their new rates for the upcoming year, the Ombudsman receives a number of complaints about increases in rates levied. Without exception, decisions to increase rates are made at a full meeting of elected Councillors. This is important because under s13(1) of the Ombudsmen Act 1975, an Ombudsman has no jurisdiction to investigate decisions made at a full meeting of an elected body specified in Part III of the First Schedule of the Act. However, an Ombudsman is able to examine any reports, recommendations or other information considered by the Councillors at the time they made their decision in order to determine whether they were in a position to make an informed decision.
In this case, the complainant had made a previous complaint to the Ombudsman in 1983. His complaint related to increases in rates levied. The then Ombudsman noted that the rates decisions in question were full Council decisions and accordingly his investigation was limited to determining whether the Council had sufficient information before it at the time it made its decision to make an informed decision.
The outcome of the 1983 investigation was that the Council had been adequately informed. The previous Ombudsman was unable, because of the operation of s13(1) of the Ombudsmen Act, to make any comments on the reasonableness or otherwise of the actual increase in rates.
In early 1990, the complainant wrote again to the Ombudsman asking her to investigate a similar rates complaint. He asked for a new investigation alleging that some new information had come to hand which had not been available at the time of the previous investigation. The new information was that a particular group of ratepayers (rural coastal residents) paid much higher rates than other ratepayers within the Council’s area.
The Ombudsman decided to carry out an investigation into what was essentially the same complaint as the 1983 complaint because the complainant supplied figures which he believed showed that rural coastal ratepayers had received rate increases which were out of all proportion to other ratepayers.
The complaint was notified and the Council provided a report which included percentage rate increases for residential urban ratepayers, rural farming ratepayers, and rural coastal ratepayers. Upon reviewing the relevant rating information, it became clear that other ratepayers had also had significant rate increases over the period of time in question. The Ombudsman could make no comment on whether the actual increases were reasonable or unreasonable but it was clear that rural coastal residents had not suffered rates increases which were out of all proportion with other ratepayers’ increases.
On this basis, the investigation was discontinued.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.