Question asked in Parliament Feb 10, 2015
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 16:14 :44 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water and the River Murray questions with regard to SA Water.
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: Late last year I was approached by a constituent who was a resident in a retirement village. They had approached me about their water bills. Whilst previously they had only received two SA Water accounts for the village, that is one for each meter in the village, this year they received one SA Water account for each of the 26 independent living units, as well as two accounts for water usage for each of their meters. Each of the 26 units' SA Water accounts this year was just under $170 per quarter, which was vastly different from the amount they had been billed previously by SA Water, namely $22—an eight times increase in rates.
I understand the additional bills were as a result of a policy change by the Valuer-General, which saw the units assessed individually rather than the village being assessed as one whole. I am advised that SA Water has consulted with the Valuer-General and is currently investigating what can be done to remedy this matter so that more retirement village residents will not suffer bill shock. My questions are:
Is the minister aware that during consultation on the changes they would make, SA Water told the Valuer-General that, in the case of individual assessments, SA Water would not issue individual accounts, which would include 26 supply charges and 26 River Murray levies?
Can the minister provide an update on SA Water's progress on this matter?
Can the minister advise when SA Water will finalise its investigations and provide a solution to this issue?
Are these 26 accounts on hold until investigations are completed?
Is the minister aware of any other impact this may have on other, or all other, retirement villages?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 16:16 :47 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. It is important to say at the outset that the Valuer-General is an independent statutory authority and makes determinations in accordance with the act that she administers. I was, of course, as the honourable member has outlined, advised of the Valuer-General's policy for assessing retirement units, and that has subsequently made some changes to how other units of government deal with things, such as charges that are raised.
They have taken those changes of the Valuer-General and applied the policy that has been long-standing, of course, but that has caused some concerns, particularly in regard to independent residents within these retirement villages. Where previously they would have had perhaps only one or two bills, one for community use and one bill to another meter, because those independent units have now been re-evaluated by the Valuer-General and set up on a separate title, if you like, they now attract independent bills.
However, it is important to note that such an arbitrary policy change does have a negative impact on retirement village residents, and it is important that government units recognise that and not blindly apply policies that have existed for some time without considering the impact on individuals and families living in those units.
As the honourable member has noted, I have asked SA Water to urgently review the situation to ensure that retirees and vulnerable South Australians are not going to be disadvantaged financially by these changes. When that determination or deliberation has been brought to a finality I will first of all advise the retirement village occupants and then I will advise the house.
May 17, 2016
In reply to the Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 10 February 2015 )
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) : The Minister for Water and the River Murray has received this advice:
1. SA Water's billing system is based on property assessments created by the State Valuation Office. In 2014 the Valuer-General applied a policy for the implementation of separate assessments of Independent Living Units (ILUs) within the Para Vista Retirement Village. In accordance with SA Water's normal billing practices SA Water created and issued individual accounts for the 26 ILU's within the village.
In March 2015, following a cross-government working group established to consider the impacts of separate ILU assessments SA Water agreed to implement a Retirement Village Discounted Single Assessment (RVDSA) which will allow SA Water to continue to bill the Para Vista Retirement Village as a single entity and not issue individual bills for the 26 ILUs.
Effective 1 July 2015 SA Water introduced a limited period RVDSA charge to apply to the Para Vista Retirement Village and other retirement villages that will be impacted by the Valuer-General's policy.
The RVDSA will run for a period of ten years ending on 30 June 2025.
The RVDSA ensures that current residents of impacted retirement villages will not be worse off as a result of individual assessments of ILUs.
Investigations have been finalised. The RVDSA was published in the South Australian Government Gazette dated 9 July 2015 and implemented by SA Water. This will ensure that retirement villages are not disadvantaged by the implementation of the Valuer-General's policy.
The 26 accounts were on hold until investigations were completed. Effective July 2015 SA Water applied the RVDSA to the Para Vista Lutheran Home and revised bills were issued. SA Water contacted the Para Vista Lutheran Home to discuss the billing arrangements.
The RVDSA will be applied to other existing retirement villages impacted by the Valuer-General's policy to ensure they are not disadvantaged. The Valuer-General has agreed to not conduct any further ILU assessments on existing ret irement villages until 2016-17.