TopicsRelated documents of interest
Steps in Resolving problems with your local council
Step 1 Ė Speak to the relevant person at councilIf you have a concern about a council, you should try to resolve it by telephoning or visiting the council. Let council know you have a concern and ask for assistance in having it resolved.
Step 2 Ė Write to councilIf you remain concerned, you should write to councilís general manager. If you are concerned about the conduct of a councillor or staff member, the council is required to respond to such matters in accordance with the Model Code of Conduct (all councils are required by law to adopt their own code which is consistent with the model code). When you write to the general manager, make sure your letter is clear and to the point:
- Describe the problem in a couple of sentences
- Tell council what you need
- Ask for action
Step 3 Ė Consider other optionsIf after receiving councilís response, your problem remains unresolved, you may need to consider taking the issue up with your local elected councillors or the Mayor. You may need to get your own legal advice and/or contact one of the following agencies preferably by telephone in the first instance:
- NSW Ombudsman : particularly if you are concerned about the conduct of council employees, enforcement matters and the administrative conduct of the council itself.
- Independent Commission Against Corruption : if you are concerned that a council official has acted corruptly.
- Division of Local Government Ė Investigations and Review Branch : if you are concerned about the overall functioning of the council, pecuniary interest issues, tendering, councillor misconduct or if are you are unsure of who to contact.
- Division of Local Government Ė Companion Animals Unit: if your concerns relate to companion animals issues.
- Division of Local Government Ė Finance Management Branch : if you have a problem with rating, charges, fees or pensioner concessions on rates.
- Additional information on Development and Zoning issues
- Additional information on legal matters including complaints about enforcement action
The following fact sheets are available for download from this website:
Division of Local Government Ė Investigations and Monitoring RoleThe role of the Minister for Local Government and of the Division of Local Government is to provide a framework to enable councils to operate to a high standard. Local councils are autonomous bodies with their own rights and powers under law. Many people write to the Minister for Local Government and/or the division asking them to direct a council to take or not take a particular course of action. The Local Government Act 1993 gives the Minister and the division limited powers to intervene in the decision making and functions of individual councils. This is why complaints should be made to the council in the first instance. Many problems ultimately have to be resolved by the council without outside involvement. You should contact the division by telephone, before writing to us, to check whether we can assist you. Our telephone number is 02 4428 4100.
What we cannot assist with
There are a number of issues where we have no role or power to intervene. For these matters, you are encouraged to pursue your concern directly with the council, seek your own independent legal or professional advice or contact another agency that is able to provide assistance. Some examples of where we cannot assist are:
- Legal questions - we do not provide legal advice. Information on free legal services and advice is available from the Legal Information Access Centre.
- Court appeal or review rights - we do not provide assistance with matters that may be subject to review by a court. See Court matters for further information.
- Development - we have no role in reviewing the merits of planning decisions made by council. For information on these matters, see Development and Zoning Issues.
- Rates and charges - the setting of rates and charges is a matter for the council. See Finance Complaints for more information.
- Corruption Ė contact the ICAC
- Employment grievances Ė contact the Office of Industrial Relations, Unions NSW or a trade union.
- Duplication - we will not normally make enquiries where the complaint has also been referred to another agency able to deal with it.
The divisionís Investigations and Review Branch provides telephone advice to members of the public with a concern about their council. If you have a complaint, we encourage you to call us prior to submitting your complaint in writing.
We assess and respond to written complaints. For details of how we deal with complaints Ė see Complaint Handling
We provide advice to the Chief Executive, Local Government, and the Minister on the performance of councils, particularly in relation to governance issues.
We conduct formal investigations pursuant to section 430 of the Local Government Act.
We investigate complaints about pecuniary interests and referrals and complaints about councillor misbehaviour.
When we receive your complaint, we will assess it to determine if it is a matter we can assist you with. In doing so, we will have regard to the Ministerís and divisionís role .
If we cannot assist you, we will tell you, provide a reason/s, and provide you, if we can, with advice about how else you might try to resolve your complaint.
We may refer your complaint to the council or another agency if we consider that they are better placed to assist you. We will inform you where we take such action.
We may make preliminary enquiries of the council or another agency or seek further information from you. Where possible, we will endeavour to resolve the issue. We will inform you of the action taken and the outcome of the enquiry process.
Where the matter relates to a pecuniary interest or misbehaviour issue, we will deal with it in accordance with our statutory obligations and any divisional policies and procedures that relate to the matter.
Follow the link for the latest complaints data on councils in NSW.
Councils are responsible for planning and development control for their council areas.
Zoning and rezoning matters are for council to determine in consultation with the community. Rezoning decisions are also subject to a final decision by the Minister for Planning, on the recommendation of the Department of Planning. Further information is available from the Department of Planning.
Neither the Minister for Local Government nor the Division of Local Government have the power to intervene or direct the council in the assessment or determination of development applications. Nor is it the Ministerís or the divisionís role to adjudicate on the merits of development applications. Council must assess the merits of each application having given due consideration to all relevant matters it must consider under section 79C of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 .
If you are seeking approval for a development
If you are dissatisfied with councilís handling of your application, you may have a number of options. If it has been refused, you may amend your application and reapply for development consent. You may alternatively apply for a review of the councilís decision under section 82A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Finally, you may appeal to the Land and Environment Court against the councilís decision or councilís failure to determine your application in the prescribed time. You may wish to seek legal advice if you are considering appealing councilís decision.
If you have a concern about a proposed development
Many councils publicly notify certain types of development application and invite public comment on them. If council does so, this is your opportunity to put your views on the application before council. To the extent they are relevant to the matters council must consider in determining applications, the council presumably will take those views into account.
Unless the development is a designated development, objectors cannot appeal against the merits of a decision to grant development consent. Objectorsí rights to challenge development consents in the Land and Environment Court are limited to cases where there is some legal defect in the decision taken by the consent authority. If you believe that the development consent raises a serious legal issue or poses a serious threat to the environment, you can consult a community legal centre, the Environmental Defenderís Office or the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
If you have a concern about the conduct of a private certifierYou should complain directly to the certifier in the first instance. If you remain concerned, contact the Building Professionals Board. The Ombudsman and, in the case of alleged corruption, the ICAC, also have the power to investigate private certifiers.
The division has a statutory role in investigating pecuniary interest complaints against councillors, council delegates and advisers, senior council officers and other council officers who are required to lodge pecuniary interest returns. A pecuniary interest is one that a person has in a matter before council because of a reasonable likelihood or expectation of financial gain or loss to that person or an associated person.
The Local Government Act requires councillors and certain staff to complete an annual pecuniary interest return. Members of the public are able to view these returns at the council offices. Councillors, delegates and advisers must declare any pecuniary interests they have in matters before council. Councillors cannot participate, vote or be in sight of the meeting while the matter is dealt with. Council officers must make written declarations if they have a pecuniary interest in any matter with which they are dealing.
The division investigates complaints about failure to lodge an accurate return or lodge a return on time, failure to declare an interest in a specific matter and participating in a matter in which the person has an interest.
Councils are responsible for determining rating policy for the council area. They are accountable to their ratepayers for the effect their policies have on individual landowners. The division does not control the levying of rates on individual properties.
Councils have discretionary powers to adopt policies to distribute the rates burden equitably and/or to adopt a rating structure that benefits ratepayers in their own area. As councils are autonomous bodies that are directly responsible to their community, neither the Minister nor the division have the power to direct a council to adopt a particular rating policy, provided such a policy complies with the Local Government Act. The best way to raise your concerns on rates and rating structure is to make a submission to the council once council exhibits its annual draft management plan. This happens annually, usually in May/June.
Councils, as a locally elected body, are entitled to make decisions on behalf of the community on the allocation and use of public resources. Some council decisions on such matters will not have unanimous support in the community. However, council generally should be regarded as representing the overall views of the local community. In this light, complaints about such matters should be raised directly with the council, in the hope that the council might review its existing resource priorities and the management of those resources. The division is unlikely to intervene in such matters.
If you have concerns about a significant resource issue, it is often a good idea to see what the councilís management plan says about what the council is planning to do on the issue. If you are unhappy with that approach, you can make a submission to the council when the council next exhibits its draft management plan. This happens annually, usually in May/June. You may also wish to consider discussing the issue with your councillors.
Neither the Minister nor division can provide legal advice or intervene in matters that could be referred to a court for review.
These include disputes about penalty notices, orders issued by a council, notices from council advising on an intention to issue an order and appeals over planning decisions. It also includes matters that are essentially disputes about legal liability, such as contract disputes and allegations of negligence.
You should seek and be guided by your own legal advice for such matters.
Information on free legal services and advice is available from the Legal Information Access Centre.
The Land and Environment Court also provides useful resources on its website including a referral guide and links for persons without a legal background.
Resources:Model Code of Conduct and Guidelines
Links to Other Agencies:
- Department of Planning
- Environmental Defenderís Office
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
- Building Professionals Board
- Legal Information Access Centre
- Land and Environment Court
- the need to act honestly and with care and diligence dealing with situations involving conflicts of interest or improper use of position, and acting so as to enhance public confidence in local government.
- Council may have varied these provisions in its own code of conduct to make its own code of conduct more onerous than the Model Code. Council is able to do this provided the more onerous provisions remain consistent with the Model Code.
- Council itself is primarily responsible in the first instance for determining whether the actions of its elected councillors, delegates and staff constitute a breach of the standards of behaviour set out in the code of conduct. It is also for council to determine what should occur in cases of a breach of those standards.
- If you have concerns about a possible breach of the code of conduct, you should write to the general manager [for councillor, delegate or staffing matters] or the mayor [for matters involving the general manager] setting out your concerns about a possible breach of councilís code of conduct and requesting that council examine the matter. You may also wish to visit council and view its code of conduct. Councils are required to have the code available for viewing. Many councils make it available on their website.
- your concerns relate to a possible breach of the code of conduct by a councillor and you are not satisfied with the manner in which the council deals with your complaint, you can then write to the Chief Executive, Local Government, of the Division of Local Government asking that the matter be examined under the discipline provisions of the Local Government Act. An independent tribunal, the Local Government Pecuniary Interest and Disciplinary Tribunal, shares with the Chief Executive, Local Government, of the Division of Local Government the power to suspend individual councillors in certain additional circumstances involving misbehaviour. Misbehaviour is defined to include a breach of the applicable code of conduct. This power only relates to conduct occurring on or after 1 January 2005.