21 August 2023

Public housing tenants mount class action over forced removals

| Ian Bushnell
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Yvette Berry MLA.

Housing Minister Yvette Berry has admitted admits the removals program was a flawed process. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The ACT Government will face a class action from public housing tenants over the botched plan to forcibly remove them from their homes as part of the housing renewal program.

Ken Cush and Associates will file the class action on behalf of about 300 ACT public housing tenants with the Federal Court in the coming weeks.

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The class action comes after a public apology and admission from the government that it got the removal process wrong and a damning report from Ombudsman Iain Anderson.

Housing Minister Yvette Berry said the implementation of the flawed removal program, while well-intentioned, was very disappointing.

But the government has restarted the mandatory removal program designed to free up land and capital for new public housing, taking on board Mr Anderson’s recommendations and writing to tenants anew.

Principal Solicitor Sam Tierney said the class action was being brought by lead applicant Gai Higginson and would claim compensation arising from a breach of the residential tenancy agreement.

He said about half of the 300 had already been forcibly moved and the remainder had received the letter telling them they were about to be moved on.

“It’s really a deficient government process that’s completely gone askew which has caused this problem,” Mr Tierney said.

He said it was too early to put a precise number on the amount of compensation that might be due given the range of circumstances.

“Everyone has been affected differently, so bearing in mind some people have moved and some people have just been through the shock and distress of receiving a letter they shouldn’t have got, I think it’s going to be a pretty big range of impacts,” he said.

“There are obviously people who have been forcibly moved out of their houses, in a lot of occasions people who had been there a long time.

“We are aware that some of these tenants had in fact been told at different points that they would be there for life.

“So it’ll be a matter of the court looking at compensation for their loss, in the sense if they’re unhappy in their new residence, if they’ve lost the connection with the community and family that they’d established.”

Mr Tierney said the removal program was something very unfortunate that should never have happened.

He said these sorts of arbitrary government actions, including Robodebt, were becoming a problem in that they had a well-meaning intention but then lost sight that there were people involved.

The public housing plan did not appear to have been properly thought through.

“It was more about the announceables before they looked at the substance or how to do it carefully and properly, and seemed to be a mandate to do it in a rush presumably to take advantage of the current housing market,” Mr Tierney said.

“This is what happens when you rush.”

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The Ombudsman found that Housing ACT underestimated the impact on tenants and that its communication with them was impersonal and caused significant distress.

“While clearly well-intentioned and based on legitimate public policy goals, Housing ACT did not plan adequately for implementation of the program,” the report said.

Housing ACT is now seeking more information from tenants about their individual circumstances as part of a more proactive exemptions policy, as well as fixing the communications issues the Ombudsman highlighted and providing more support for Tenant Relocation Officers.

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Public housing needs to be capped at 3 years. 3 years to gain skills for employment, or access to drug and alcohol programs. I understand there are vulnerable people in our community that will require more assistance but if you have just fallen on hard times, you have 3 years to fix it. If you have a guarantee of public housing for life, where is the incentive to turn your life around.

It’s nice to be smug and comfortable!

Discounted rents, discounted utilities, free water, many beneficiaries, many living in three bedroom homes on their own.
Now they aren’t happy with their lot and want some cash for any stress or harm caused, Labor fuel this nonsense and it’s us the rate payers that foot the bill. I’m sick of it!
Same with all this Higgins Drumgold legal mess, that will cost us all a bomb before it’s all said and done.
CIT scandal and the millions paid to Mr Speachwriter, no out come there either, Barr just hopes we’ve all forgotten about it, million dollar electric fire trucks that don’t work, trams we don’t want, buses that never have passengers, a healthcare system that is useless and now they want to replicate it in the north.
God help us!
Canberra is just a big country town that over thinks it relevance in Australia.
We have the dearest administration in the nation, and now we also have one of the poorest at delivering competent governance. Most of the ACT Dixon office staff still refuse to go to work post covid, still happy to bank the wages though.
An election next year and these clowns will probably get in again.
We have ourselves to blame.

Spot on, seems wasted money just isn.t a problem here, whinging welfare people

What a joke this is, suing the government because you don’t like the free house they’ve (taxpayers) have given you.

It’s just another reason why the government should own almost no public housing, it’s too open to abuse and manipulation due to the politics involved.

Shane Vaughan9:51 pm 21 Aug 23

And this is a timely reminder as to why governments around the country gave up on providing social housing, too damn politically problematic.

The tenancy aspects of Public Housing Policy need to be fixed ahead of the new batch of accommodation coming on line, otherwise we’ll end up with another generation of the tenants feeling entitled to a property for life.

As a homeless 17 year old in the 1980s, I was assisted by a social worker and after an 18 month wait was granted a one bedroom flat in Braddon. Prior to that I slept on the floor of a school friend and then rented a room at Macquarie Hostel in Barton. I fear for anyone in similar circumstances these days.

Of course not. The ACT government has no shame and answers to no one.

Incidental Tourist5:38 pm 21 Aug 23

“…compensation arising from a breach of the residential tenancy agreement..” Is it not ironic that those who called upon “stenghtening tenants’s rights” are the first who felt on their own sword?

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