Kamis, 05 September 2013

The same for less, or more to stay the same?

Not to take your mind off the Federal Election that's to be held tomorrow, but if you are a tenant in NSW Public Housing there is another important date that is fast approaching - on Monday, September 9th, HNSW will flick the switch on the new 'better approach to filling vacant bedrooms' policy. We expect to see the full details of this policy on Monday.


UPDATE (9/9/13): HNSW has now produced a 'vacant bedroom charge' factsheet - find it at this link.

This policy has been referred to as a new 'vacant bedroom charge', but you might have also heard it mentioned as the spare bedroom tax. Essentially, it will require tenants with more bedrooms than allowed by their entitlement to make a choice: pay the same for less, or pay more to stay the same.

We've already spoken about this a couple of times on the Brown Couch, and it is worth revisiting those discussions for a refresher about what we already know. You can find these posts here, here and here.

But to summarise, briefly: tenants who have more bedrooms than they're entitled to (based on the policy at this link) may be asked to relocate to smaller premises. If they are asked, and they decline, their rent subsidy will be adjusted so that they pay more. For singles, this will mean a rent increase of about $20 per week; for couples, it will mean a rise of about $30 per week.

If, on the other hand, the tenant chooses to relocate to a smaller premises, they will be placed on the waiting list for a transfer, and will be considered a priority applicant.

Since writing those earlier posts, we have had some further discussions with Housing NSW about how this policy will be implemented. Here's what we have been lead to understand:

1. HNSW has said that it will not be approaching every tenant with spare bedrooms to discuss relocation. There are some tenants who, for one reason or another, will be left alone. HNSW has not given us anything concrete to go on as to who will be exempt and why - other than to say the decision to approach or not approach a tenant will be made on its merits, in each particular case.

2. HNSW has said that it will take a 'measured approach' to contacting tenants whom they would like to consider relocation. As far as we can tell, this means that they will not be sending letters out en masse, but will make an approach to affected tenants in person. They have said that this will be done by workers who have had some previous experience in assisting tenants through the process of relocation...

3. Tenants who agree to relocate, and are placed on the waiting list for a 'priority' transfer, may still have a lengthy wait for their new home. This will vary depending on the nature of the property required, and on other demand for properties in their area. In particular, a tenant who has agreed to relocate in order to free up a property they have been 'under-occupying' will not be housed before an applicant for housing who has been assessed as 'at risk' (according to the eligibility criteria - and unless the under-occupying tenant is also assessed as being 'at risk' in addition to being an under-occupant).

4. A tenant who does not agree to relocate will have their rent subsidy adjusted immediately. A tenant who does agree to relocate will continue to pay according to their current rent. At some time, these agreeable under-occupants will be offered new properties and asked to move. If they do not then accept one of two offers (assuming the offers are 'reasonable', which means they will be subject to the usual processes of review and appeal), their rent subsidy will be adjusted to include the 'vacant bedroom charge'. They will also be removed from the transfer list.

We look forward to seeing this policy in full.

Please contact your local Tenants Advice & Advocacy Service if you are approached about the vacant bedroom charge, and would like to discuss the matter with an advocate.