21 Aug 2018

Tenants still paying meth debts a month after report

12:52 pm on 21 August 2018

It took Housing New Zealand nearly a month after learning the meth testing regime was bogus before it called off the debt collectors.

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Photo: RNZ

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Housing New Zealand (HNZ) has identified and contacted 53 tenants who were still making debt payments for meth-related damage.

"All have been written to and spoken to in person requesting that they stop making payments," a HNZ statement said.

Since 2015, the agency has pursued dozens of tenants through the Tenancy Tribunal for the cost of testing and cleaning state houses where traces of methamphetamine had been found.

But in late May, a major report found no health risk from living in a house where meth had only been smoked. That meant HNZ had needlessly kicked hundreds of people out of state houses and wasted more than $100 million on unnecessary repairs.

On 6 June, HNZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie told RNZ the agency had put a stop to repayments from tenants who still owed it money for meth-related damage.

"We have halted everything we can and will deal with any residual cases currently moving through the Tenancy Tribunal," he said in a statement.

A timeline, provided by HNZ, states that between 29 May and 6 June, HNZ began an initial investigation to identify tenants who'd been ordered to pay for meth-related damages.

However it shows the agency did not call off the debt collectors until 20 June at the earliest and 2 July at the latest.

It also took the same amount of time before directly contacting its tenants to tell them to halt all automatic payments.

Read HNZ's timeline here:

The agency also reviewed all Tribunal hearings from 2016 to 2018.

Between 7 June and 19 June, it reviewed about 1000 cases and started a further inquiry into all damages charged to "customers" over the past six years. The review was completed before 2 July.

It also asked the Ministry of Social Development to stop taking repayments out of welfare from any affected beneficiaries.

"Should there be any other tenant identified in the future then the cessation of any payments will be addressed," a HNZ statement said.

It set up a dedicated 0800 number and email address for former and current tenants with meth-related enquiries.

It's still unclear whether current and former HNZ tenants will be returned the money they were ordered to pay the agency as a result of the now-discredited meth contamination.

On 12 June, the agency was directed by Housing Minister Phil Twyford to provide a "comprehensive report" on its handling of the saga and to consider what redress or compensation might be appropriate.

That report was supposed to be completed in six weeks and is now almost four weeks overdue.

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