The vital role of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services

Dear Minister Roberts,

The vital role of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services

UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families is a service group of UnitingCare NSW.ACT and part of the Uniting Church Australia and comprises a number of service streams including UnitingCare Burnside, UnitingCare Children’s Services and UnitingCare Disability.

Together these organisations form one of the largest providers of services to support children and families in NSW, with services provided to over 30,000 children, young people and families in 2012/2013.

These services include provision of innovative and quality services that help break the cycle of disadvantage, provision of services across the continuum of care including early intervention and intensive family support programs, and out of home care services. We know, from the work that we do, just how important stable and lasting tenancies are for the health and wellbeing of all people.

With that in mind, we are extremely concerned that the current review of Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS) is proceeding without any consultation with organisations that either run these services (ie. The Tenants’ Union of New South Wales or any of the Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services) or work with clients that will likely be affected by changes to the operation of the TAAS.

Many people we work with experience significant disadvantage and many, at some point in their lives, have either been at risk of becoming homeless or have experienced homelessness. TAAS is an essential service for these people and a key tool in the prevention of homelessness through the provision of specialised legal advice, advocacy and representation.

These services are even more essential as increases in private rental prices has made rental affordability an unachievable dream for low income families and pushed vulnerable tenants to the margins of the rental market.  This has created what the Wesley Mission have termed a “seismic shift in the face of homelessness” increasingly defined by families and children.

With the recent cuts to Legal Aid NSW, vulnerable people and families have fewer avenues for accessing legal advice and representation. This increases the significance and value of the services that TAAS perform. TAAS has provided invaluable assistance to people we work with over the years, combating the stress and insecurity borne from threats to tenancy arrangements. It has been an essential tool for many tenants in being able to achieve just and fair outcomes for themselves and their families in difficult circumstances.

Importantly the funding for TAAS is not through the tax base but through interest paid on bond held by the Rental Bond Board, with TAAS historically being set up to serve the people who provide these funds. UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families is strongly opposed changes made to the funding of TAAS services in Queensland recently and we ask the NSW Government to maintain the current level of tenancy services provided by TAAS.

Any restrictions on access to TAAS will reduce rather than strengthen equity and fairness in the private rental market. This is a concern, especially in the current tight rental environment where tenants may be vulnerable to exploitation and where evidence has emerged of landlords increasingly “cherry picking” tenants to the detriment of disadvantaged families.

UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families urges you to fully consult the sector in any review of the operation of current services, particularly the Tenants Union of NSW. We would be more than happy to participate in any process concerning the review of services and to meet with you to discuss this matter further.

Kind regards

 


Claerwen Little
Director of UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families