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Pensioner 'on $20 a day' after council tries to sell house

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 12/07/2018 A Current Affair

72-year-old cancer sufferer Alan Smith opened his newspaper one day to find that his home was for sale.

A pensioner is in dire straits after his northern New South Wales council tried to sell his house out from under him.

Grafton resident Alan Smith, 72, freely admits he was behind on his rate payments to Clarence Valley Council.

However, he contends that his former wife had been spending the money on herself rather than making the payments.

Oliver Sacks sitting in a chair: Alan Smith, 72, was shocked to find his own house listed for sale by the council. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Alan Smith, 72, was shocked to find his own house listed for sale by the council.

"I knew her not to pay bills on smaller amounts, but not on our own home," he told A Current Affair.

And when he opened his newspaper to find that his home was for sale, he said it came as a shock, as he'd never been contacted about any missing payments.

"Pretty much the bottom fell out of my world," he said.

a man holding a piece of paper: Mr Smith said he wasn't contacted by the council, and only saw the advertisement in his local paper. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Smith said he wasn't contacted by the council, and only saw the advertisement in his local paper.

He and his friend John Haggar went to the council to ask for an explanation but were told everybody from senior management was too busy.

Mr Smith said at various times he'd been told he owed $27,000, $33,000 and now $37,000, with no breakdown on those sums or any disclosure of the interest rate.

In a bid to stay in his home, Mr Smith followed a council proposal that he take out a small loan to pay back the rates, along with handing over more than half his old age pension.

a close up of a piece of paper: Mr Smith admitted he was behind on his rates, but said he thought his former wife had been paying them. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Smith admitted he was behind on his rates, but said he thought his former wife had been paying them.

He said he was now living on about $125 a week, despite having a broken hot water system, a broken washing machine, and now needing a cancer biopsy.

"It'll be when I can afford it, I'm afraid," he said.

Some locals are protesting the council's actions, and donating goods to help Mr Smith live more comfortably.

a close up of a logo: The council eventually allowed Mr Smith to pay back the rates, but the repayments mean he's living on $20 a week. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd The council eventually allowed Mr Smith to pay back the rates, but the repayments mean he's living on $20 a week.

"It's something that goes against my grain because I don't seek charity," he said.

"It's a big help, and with what I'm paying council at the moment I don't have a lot of spare money."

Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay said in a statement that they could not comment on individual ratepayers' cases for privacy reasons.

a man standing in front of a brick building: Mr Smith and friend John Haggar tried to get a straight answer out of the council. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Smith and friend John Haggar tried to get a straight answer out of the council.

Mr Lindsay said information about property sales was available at the Clarence Valley Council website in meetings minutes, and was published in the NSW Government Gazette.

"Council aims to work cooperatively with ratepayers to help them with any difficulties they might have in meeting their payments," he said.

"It is only after five years of non-payment of rates that council will take action to sell properties to recover unpaid rates."


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