Policy and advocacy 2017-2018

The Tenants’ Union works for change through high quality research, policy development and advocacy on tenants’ needs. We undertake both proactive and responsive activities in order to ensure the effectiveness of our policy and advocacy work.

Key areas of focus this year were:

  • Campaigning for fair renting laws
  • The challenges and opportunity of the “Build to Rent” sector
  • Short-Term letting
  • Rental affordability, with a focus on low-
  • income renters in the private rental market
  • Land Lease Communities
  • Changes in the Social Housing sector
  • Older tenants
  • Marginal renters

Fair renting laws

We have continued to highlight the need for stronger legal protections for renters, and advocate for fairer renting laws to provide renters with stability and affordability in their homes. The Make Renting Fair campaign was a significant area of our work (see Make Renting Fair 2017-2018).

We prepared a Parliamentary briefing paper on the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 Review and continue to provide feedback and input to the NSW Government, Opposition and other parties regarding changes to the Act.

Land Lease Communities

Advocate ToolkitWe work with resident representatives, Tenant Advocates, solicitors and other organisations to improve the rights of community residents. Our work is informed and amplified by the Tenants’ Union convened Residential Parks Forum which met four times this year.

At the request of forum members we produced an Advocate Toolkit, designed to assist resident advocates with their work at NCAT. The kit provides guidance on advocacy, the law, legal research and NCAT applications and procedure.

Our primary focus this year has been electricity usage charges. There were differing views about how charges may be levied against home owners. The Tenants' Union has worked with key agencies to provide clarity, supported NCAT applications and assisted home owners at the NCAT Appeal Panel and in Supreme Court proceedings.

We also convened the Parks Legal Working Group which met twice to identify our priority areas for law reform, and to determine how we would progress work on electricity usage charges in order to achieve a positive outcome for home owners in land lease communities.

Changes in the Social Housing Sector

We have continued to engage with the social housing sector including Family and Community Services, the NSW Land & Housing Corporation, the NSW Federation of Housing Associations, the Registrar of Community Housing and a number of Community Housing Providers, as a range of measures arising from the Future Directions strategy are considered for implementation.

In November 2017 we made a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017. The Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme (ARDS) as proposed by this Bill if passed will have a detrimental impact on arrears and debt management processes employed by social housing landlords in NSW. It has strong potential to reduce fairness and transparency across social housing tenancy management systems, and this will be keenly felt by tenants in social housing – whether or not they are referred to a compulsory ARDS.

We argued the introduction of the proposed ARDS is not an appropriate or proportionate response. It will remove agency from social housing tenants and prevent them from being able to manage their own finances. It will add layers of complexity to social housing tenancy agreements where allegations of end-of-tenancy costs or rent arrears are made, and in many cases will place vulnerable households under extreme financial stress in a way that is simply not warranted.

The government response has been published in October 2018, with several of the sector’s recommendations being taken on board.

We liaised with colleagues across the sector to discuss and raise concerns about proposed rental bonds for public housing tenancies, including the imposition of additional costs at the beginning of a tenancy would only set already vulnerable households on the path to further hardship.

We contributed to discussion and facilitated meetings of public and community housing tenants in areas where the management of public housing tenancies is to be transferred to the community housing sector. We will employ a Project Officer to consult with social housing tenants and other stakeholders across NSW to inform the development of best practice from a tenant perspective, and make recommendations for changes in law, policy and practice in tenancy management transfer. The project will be funded by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.

We have continued to liaise with and advocate for tenants and communities facing displacement through social housing sell-off and renewal projects, including Millers Point and The Rocks, Redfern and Waterloo, and the Ivanhoe Estate.

Aboriginal policy platform

As a non-Aboriginal service with deep interest in the experience of Aboriginal tenants in NSW, and with the opportunity to help make a difference, the Tenants’ Union of NSW has long grappled with how we can best address issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who rent without continuing the injustice of speaking over, instead of for, Indigenous communities. This was the starting point of our work to create an Aboriginal Renting Policy Platform.

The work in developing the platform is currently being carried out by Dtarawarra Pty Ltd, and with regular consultation with the Aboriginal Advisory Committee, on our behalf to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices lead its development. The process of developing a platform from which to base our work explores all aspects of the Indigenous renting experience – from private sector and the social housing sector which includes public housing, community housing, and the Aboriginal community housing sector – for the purpose of advocating for Indigenous housing justice. This requires an accounting of both historic and present-day injustices, including dispossession, discrimination and exclusionary decision-making processes.

Boarding Houses

In March 2018 we published a report on the first five years of the Boarding House Act 2012. Section 105 of the Act requires the Minister to review the Act before November 2018, to determine whether its policy objectives remain valid and its terms remain appropriate. The report was intended to assist the Minister in this process.

We consulted with residents of boarding houses, local government and other advocacy services including university student organisations, neighbourhood centres & homelessness legal services.

Looking to the future, the Act will need to be strengthened to realise its aim in providing an appropriate regulatory framework for the delivery of quality services to residents. Incentives for registration must be increased, and rights must be made clear and genuinely accessible to residents. Deficiencies in the compliance and enforcement framework need to be remedied.

Group homes

In February and March 2018 Shelter NSW and the Tenants’ Union of NSW held consultation forums across NSW to hear from residents, their families and others to assist in the response to a range of options concerning new protections for residents of long term supported group accommodation. The protections became an issue for government to consider as it transferred services for people with disability, including the management of supported group homes, to the non-government sector as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Karen and Ned at a group home consultation
Karen Walsh (Shelter NSW Executive Officer) and Ned Cutcher (then Tenants’ Union Senior Policy Officer), presenting at one of the group homes consultation forums.

During the consultation forums, 58 people were engaged across eight regions; Penrith, Newcastle, Sydney, Coffs Harbour, Woollongong, Liverpool, Newcastle and Albury. Participants were mostly family members of people with disability who live in long term supported group accommodation.

The consultation forums revealed a high level of concern about the proposed transfer of supported group accommodation to the non-government sector, and uncertainty about the current direction of housing policy in NSW for people with disability. Findings from the consultation forums suggested there is strong support for better protections for residents of long term supported group accommodation.

 

> Tenants' Union Annual Report 2017-2018 Contents