A distraught Christine Anderson is comforted by her son Geoff outside what was their family home of 20 years.
A distraught Christine Anderson is comforted by her son Geoff outside what was their family home of 20 years.

Forced sale divides councillors

  TWO Lismore councillors say they will be reluctant in future to let staff make decisions on their behalf after a South Lismore woman lost her home over an unpaid rates bill.

Lismore City Council auctioned invalid pensioner Christine Anderson's home over a rates bill of more than $16,000 last weekend, despite renewed attempts to clear the debt and despite a medical certificate saying Ms Anderson suffered from profound clinical depression and losing the house would have a “severe” impact on her mental state.

The Northern Star yesterday spoke to all Lismore councillors, except John Chant and Ray Houston, who were unavailable.

All the councillors sympathised with Ms Anderson, although most said they believed council staff had no option but to sell her home after more than a decade of trying to get rates money from her.

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell declined to comment beyond saying she had “a couple of conversations” with friends of Ms Anderson's and “this is an unfortunate situation”.

However, Deputy Mayor Simon Clough said he was “very disappointed in council's activities”.

“While council has possibly fulfilled its policy requirements, there's a very large gap in terms of this response as a compassionate organisation,” he said.

Cr Clough said the council ought to have involved a non-government welfare organisation to help Ms Anderson when it became clear she was not responding to the council.

Cr Clough and Cr Vanessa Ekins said in the future councillors ought to retain responsibility for decisions such as this to prevent something like this happening again.

But other councillors pointed out council had spent over a decade negotiating with Ms Anderson and had tried to get payment plans in place before Saturday's auction.

Cr Graham Meineke said he believed council staff had acted correctly, but acknowledged the dramatic impact of the case.

“People are bound to pay their rates, but then you look at the paper and think ‘gee – there's a human side to this as well' and in the cold hard light of the council chamber that can get forgotten or pushed aside,” he said.