About 12,000 Wyndham property owners have fallen behind on paying their rates.

Figures obtained by Star Weekly reveal that Wyndham council is owed about $14 million in rates arrears, with financial hardship and unemployment among the most common reasons given by residents who fail to pay.

Wyndham ratepayers copped a 2.5 per cent increase on their rates bill for the 2016-17 financial year, in line with the state government’s rate capping edict. And a rate cap of two per cent has been set for the 2017-18 financial year.

Pensioners receive a rebate of $218.30 on general rates, and $50 on the fire services levy.

City transformation director Steven Lambert said the council has taken legal action to recoup unpaid rates, but only after property owners fail to respond to communication.

“Generally, we make at least six separate requests for payment before starting legal action,” Mr Lambert said.

“It’s important to note that council has a policy to work with ratepayers experiencing financial hardship.

“Council allows residents to set up payment arrangements and, by applying for hardship consideration, they can have part of the rates payment deferred, and legal costs or penalty interest costs waived,” he said.

“Details of local financial counsellors are also provided as part of this service.”

But Denis Nelthorpe from community legal centre West Justice said Wyndham council was relying on “old fashioned, Dickensian methods” to chase up property owners owing unpaid rates and fines.

Mr Nelthorpe said the council’s methods were unsympathetic to people who were in genuine difficulty.

“Council makes no attempt to differentiate between home owners who are in rates arrears, and possibly in financial difficulty, and investors who don’t want to pay their rates until they’ve sold their property,” he said.