Housing New Zealand is telling its tenants to call an 0800 number instead of asking for help at their local office.
The department is to significantly expand its call centre, leaving its offices open only for scheduled appointments and urgent issues.
It says it will have 48 extra staff working for the centre by April and most of the calls will be resolved on the spot.
The founder of the RaWiri Residents Association in South Auckland, Liz Kiriona, says many tenants will struggle with the phone-based system.
"A lot of our people in here don't have phones, a lot also don't understand English," she says.
And Auckland housing group Monte Cecilia Trust says the department is effectively stopping people from accessing its front-line services.
Housing New Zealand general manager of tenancy services Kay Read says call centre staff will help with requests such as for repairs and can also assess whether people are eligible for a state home.
She told Morning Report the customer service line should be used for for routine matters, but face-to-face appointments will still be available for those who most need them.
Ms Read says the new set-up is about delivering a more consistent service and saving money to allow a better return for the taxpayer. She says there will be some job losses.