Executive Officer's message 2015-2016

Julie ForemanThis year the Tenants’ Union celebrated four decades of working for tenants’ rights. An anniversary such as this is an opportunity to celebrate achievements, acknowledge the many contributors to the journey and take a clear-eyed view on what still needs to be done.

Over those 40 years the TU has achieved real gains in legislative reform, educated and advised hundreds of thousands of tenants, established (and re-established) a network of tenant advice services, positively influenced government policy and actively contributed to the public discourse. You can read more about how we celebrated this milestone elsewhere in the report.

So now to 2016 – while our rental laws include some useful provisions, they still leave private tenants without the basic protection of reasonable grounds for eviction or limits on rent increases. Highlighting this has been just part of the significant contribution by the TU to the review of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. We also continue to work hard to ensure the rights and interests of tenants in social housing are kept front of mind when new policy initiatives are announced. The recently announced 10 year plan for social housing in NSW, means there is still much to be done. We actively campaigned against the social housing ‘anti-social behaviour’ reforms, and, alongside others, were able to modify the harshest aspects of these changes. We have also contributed submissions and representations on strata law changes and the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into public housing repairs and maintenance.

The TU legal team continues to be active in conducting litigation in the interests of tenants in NSW. Public interest litigation this year has included preventing landlords from circumventing tenancy law for vulnerable residential and land lease community tenants, advocating in relation to systemic issues regarding Commonwealth Rent Assistance and Aboriginal Housing Tenants, preventing no grounds evictions by community housing providers and dramatically reducing compensation payable by private tenants.

Our advice, information and referral services continue to be in demand and were provided on 3,400 occasions – a 20% increase over last year. Limited resources meant that the TU turned away an estimated 1 in 2 who wanted assistance.

We implemented a deliberate focus on face-to-face legal education and information to maximise understanding of new renting laws. The TU’s education program reached 1,500 people – 248 tenant advocates and community workers participated in our training courses, almost 1,000 residential parks residents attended our new law information sessions, and 253 people attended our boarding house law seminars.

A suite of new resources were developed to explain the laws covering boarding house residents and residential parks residents. A new website for residential park information was launched and tenants.org.au was revamped. Our online resources continue to be relied on heavily by tenants across NSW with 740,360 unique visits to our websites made.

In the public discourse renting affordability and security receives growing coverage and we are heartened by the fact that the TU’s voice is strong in the debate. Our mainstream media mentions increased by 34% over 2014-15.

The depth of TU’s achievements under tight financial constraints is down to the exceptional staff team who continue to innovate, collaborate and work hard for the tenants of NSW.

We say special thanks to Tom Mortimer and Melisa Coveney who assisted us with contract and locum positions this year. They both made highly valued contributions to the team. Sadly, as the boarding house education project was completed we farewelled its Coordinator, Margaret Di Nicola. We welcomed Amy Davis as our Administration Assistance and farewelled Louise Corney from this position as she took up a coordination role with Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association.

The TU is fortunate indeed to have a highly skilled, committed Board with a depth of experience. A big thank you to all members and in particular Chair – Paula Rix, Treasurer – Charmaine Jones and 40th Anniversary sub-committee member – Julia Davis, for their leadership and support.

We look forward to strengthening tenants’ rights as we enter our fifth decade!

 

> TU Annual Report 2015-2016 contents