Pamela Hunter is the Community Services Manager at VERTO – who run the South West NSW Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service. This blog post was originally published at www.verto.org.au/blog. Thanks to VERTO and Pamela for allowing us to republish.
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, plenty of column inches have been dedicated to the economic situation and its impact on the average Australian family. There’s no doubt, putting the tragic health situation to one side, that the economic impact has been difficult for many. Job losses are terrible to see, even if government policy has helped buffer the blow.
Given the impact on mainstream Australia, pause for a minute to think about the impact on those less fortunate. Tenancy, and renting in general, became very popular subjects at the beginning of the pandemic but they seem to have slipped from the headlines of late. At VERTO, my team works with those most vulnerable in the community, the people most at risk of being evicted, even under the protections that have been put in place for this period.
Here’s how the pandemic has impacted those most vulnerable in the housing market.
The numbers requiring support have increased
We’ve seen a marked increase in the number of individuals and families requiring our tenancy support. Over 50% of clients coming to us have been new; a good indication that there are plenty of people that are being impacted during the pandemic. Our team has currently completed 74 COVID-specific cases.
Our Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS) provides free advice and advocacy support to residential tenants to uphold their legislative rights, and to understand their responsibilities under that legislation. That legislation has changed in line with additional support for both tenants and landlords during the turbulent few months we have just experienced; this change, however, hasn’t always benefited our clients.
Changing legislation means more complexity, which has seen demand for our support increase. Also, COVID restrictions mean tenancy hearings have moved from face-to-face to remote, placing an additional burden onto those that are already vulnerable. While video works for many aspects of our lives, it certainly made it more difficult for a tenant trying to make their point in a hearing.
Loopholes add issues
While many landlords have attempted to help their tenants during this time, we have had situations where our support has been required.
For example, we are seeing loopholes being used to evict tenants even though the legislation changes during COVID meant that this should not occur. We’ve also seen instances of repairs being ignored, often in situations where the property is uninhabitable until these repairs are made. For those most vulnerable, this adds an additional layer of stress.
Thankfully, these situations aren’t the norm, but it has still been troubling for our team to see. There are always two sides to a story, however, in this case, it’s a situation where we need to show some compassion at a very difficult time.
The people we are working with are really feeling the brunt of this crisis. Unemployment has a larger impact on this section of the community, and I can only imagine the stress of not only losing your job but also the very real prospect of losing your home. It’s these scenarios that drive our team to help as much as we can.
Services more important than ever
This means that tenancy support is more important than ever. We’ve seen additional funding from the government and this has certainly helped our team provide more services to more people in need.
At VERTO, we deliver a range of services that help those in need of support, particularly around employment. Our section is a little different; we’re literally helping people keep their homes. Even though our team is now working remotely, it has been pleasing to be able to still deliver support to vulnerable tenants. My hope is that landlords and tenants can work together during these difficult times to find the right way forward, without seeing people lose a roof over their heads.
Experiencing issues with your landlord? Check out the South West NSW Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service or the VERTO website to find out what support is available to you. Or find your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service here.
For more info on renting in NSW during COVID-19, see our Renters' Guide to COVID-19.