30 Oct 2018

Barrier to compensation over flawed meth testing leaves bitter taste

9:55 am on 30 October 2018

An anti-poverty advocate is shocked a stumbling block to compensating state house tenants wrongly evicted for meth contamination has only just been flagged.

The woman and her family were evicted from their state house and ordered to pay $20,500 in costs to decontaminate it

A woman who was evicted from her state house and ordered to pay $20,500 in costs to decontaminate it. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

An amendment to regulation is likely to be needed before Housing New Zealand can pay compensation to tenants who lost their homes and possessions over flawed methamphetamine testing.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) says it is preparing urgent advice for government ministers, as any compensation paid to beneficiaries could affect what assistance they are entitled to.

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March said it was unacceptable the issue was being raised this late.

Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March says there are "no excuses" for Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand not to be communicating with each other. Photo: Supplied

"It's absolutely cruel to leave these tenants hanging without compensation for weeks, in fact months, when other forms of compensation could have been explored."

The legislation is clear that after a beneficiary reaches a threshold of cash assets, the benefit entitlements are compromised, he said.

He said there were "no excuses" for MSD and Housing New Zealand not to be communicating with each other about what was the best way the tenants could be compensated.

Other forms of compensation, such as furniture, clothing and other non-recoverable grants were more immediate forms of help that could be explored, he said.

"We're talking about people who are living in emergency accommodation, so these things do have value."

He said people were facing a bureaucratic merry-go-round, whereby they seek help from MSD which directs them to Housing New Zealand, which then sends them back to MSD.

"This is indicative that the two ministries that should be working together to address [the tenants'] situation are not talking to each other, leaving people hanging."

Mr Menendez March said it was causing tenants a huge amount of distress, in addition to social and psychological harm that they may have already suffered.

Regulation change won't cause delay - Twyford

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said he received advice on this only a week ago and would fix the problem quickly.

A regulation change was required, not new legislation, and it could be dealt with by an Order in Council and signed off by Cabinet.

"This issue has not and will not cause any delay to the compensation payments. That process is under way."

Housing NZ had confirmed more than 200 of the 800 tenants affected were eligible for a payment and they would receive it in the next few weeks.

Housing NZ was working with MSD and placing advertising to find other tenants.

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