3 Dec 2018

Flawed meth testing regime 'a huge failure across government' - Twyford

11:13 am on 3 December 2018

Housing New Zealand has started paying compensation to state house tenants who were evicted because of dodgy methamphetamine tests.

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. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The government estimated that about 2400 people from 800 tenancies had been wrongly kicked out of their state houses because of a zero tolerance policy.

A Housing New Zealand report in September acknowledged the approach had had a far-reaching effect on tenants, including losing their tenancies, their possessions, being suspended from the waiting list, poor credit ratings and being made homeless.

It found 542 tenants were charged nearly $7 million in total for meth contamination between 2013 and 2018.

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said the first 55 people were being paid from today - an average of about $8000 each.

Watch Housing Minister Phil Twyford on Morning Report:

Another 92 people have had claims approved and were waiting on an offer to be finalised.

Mr Twyford told Morning Report the formula for payouts was made on a case-by-case basis to cover expenses such as moving costs and furniture replacement.

"We're going to do our best to put this right. This was a debacle over a number of years," he said.

"A lot of people got hurt. Housing New Zealand is doing its best to track people down and make sure, if they're eligible, people get the assistance they deserve.

"This was a huge failure across government at multiple levels. I can't underline how much regret we feel for people who were hurt in this process."

Each affected tenant has also received a formal apology from Housing New Zealand, Mr Twyford said.

Mr Twyford said that in some cases, evicted tenants were made homeless and had to stay in hotels and motels were the Ministry of Social Development racked the expenses up as debt.

Housing officials have so far contacted almost 300 people about compensation - they earlier estimated about 800 would be eligible. There is not cut off time for claims.

Mr Twyford said he urged anyone affected to come forward to Housing New Zealand.

However, a Housing New Zealand tenant who was evicted twice said she thought Twyford's comments were "a load of rubbish"

"I've been waiting two years, I've had to go and get my own lawyer to try and sort this out," Dianne Revill said.

Ms Revill said that in her first Housing New Zealand home, her daughter was constantly getting sick. She had heard stories about the previous tenants and thought meth contamination could be the problem.

She asked Housing New Zealand to test the house.

"A couple of weeks later, they came back and told me I was getting evicted because the test came back positive."

She was able to secure a second home through the agency and asked them to test it before she moved in, but it was unclear if they had followed through.

"They came and tested it again, and I was more than happy to let them do it because they told me it had already been done."

The test came back positive and she was evicted from that property too.

Ms Revill said nobody had ever smoked meth in the home when she was the tenant.

She was made homeless and had to hand her daughter over to her sister's care. Ms Revill is now couch-hopping while she waits for word from the agency.

"They offered me a couple of thousand and I said no, that's not enough.

"I lost two households worth of property, along with things that just can't be replaced.

"I want another home, for a start, and I want a decent payout so I can fill my home with some household items.

"We're just still waiting and waiting. It's just a waiting game," she said.

Advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty said helping now-homeless tenants should be a first priority.

"We know that for the tenants who are still homeless, having permanent housing is the only thing that will deliver justice," it said in a release.

"Cash compensation will go some way towards addressing the material hardship evicted tenants have been put into because of the evictions, but the money will not be able to be properly used unless they are re-housed.

"We are calling on the government to build and repair enough state homes to make them available for the affected tenants," it said.

"For people who are homeless, the cash compensation will end up eaten away by the expenses that come from living without access to cooking facilities, bedrooms, or other basic amenities.

"The cash compensation, which is supposedly intended to go towards replacing lost household items, will not be able to be used that way if people remain without a home."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the government has "no idea" how many people were made homeless by the faulty meth testing.

"The compensation ... is welcome, and will go some way to helping vulnerable New Zealanders rebuild their life.

"In saying this, we have heard from advocacy groups that many of those affected from the regime are now on the streets or living out of their cars," Ms Davidson said in a statement.

"To offer someone made homeless by the previous government compensation but not a roof over their head means the compensation will provide some reprieve but no certainty of a safe home environment. We must make sure that is achieved."

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