For 38 years, Canberra renters in need of advice have turned to the Tenants’ Union ACT for help. But the service will wind up early next year as the ACT Government has handed Tenants Advice Service funding to Legal Aid ACT.
The government, through the Justice and Community Safety Directorate, says it put the service out to tender to ensure it provides the best value for money and that it was as accessible as possible to tenants and occupants in the ACT.
Legal Aid ACT will commence tenant support from 1 April 2020.
The Tenants’ Union is still waiting on funding for the January-March period and says it will have no choice but to dissolve after that.
A government statement says contract talks in the new year between the Directorate and Legal Aid will include whether any of the five Tenants’ Union staff may be offered employment in the new service.
Tenants’ Union executive officer Deb Pippen says staff are devastated.
“The Tenants’ Union will be meeting in the new year to talk about the future but this strips us of our funding so the service is no longer going to be as it was,” she said.
With the organisation about to go into Christmas shutdown, Ms Pippen said she could not say how the handover would be conducted.
”It makes it hard for us to give advice in the new year period when we don’t know if the new service is going to give ongoing advice like we have,” she said.
“We have client matters, we have matters in ACAT, we have to work all that out.”
Better Renting Executive Director Joel Dignam slammed the Government for the tender decision.
“Let’s not sugarcoat this: the ACT Government has decided to defund the Tenants’ Union ACT on Minister Ramsay’s watch,” he said.
“This decision likely means the end of Tenants’ Union ACT. Their team has brought decades of experience to supporting renters across the ACT. It’s tragic and deeply concerning to think that their knowledge will no longer be available to people renting in the ACT.
“With more and more people renting, this is an issue where it’s crucial to see informed leadership from our politicians. This includes action to reform rental laws, as we have seen recently across Australia. But, it must also mean a genuine commitment to provide the necessary resources for tenant support and advice services. Unfortunately, it seems like this government just doesn’t get it.”
The Tenants’ Union had tried to fight last month’s tender process with a grassroots campaign after saying it had been blindsided by the government’s decision, only finding out about the move for a tender on 28 August in a meeting with the government.
Last month Ms Pippen told Region Media that a standard review of the service in 2017-18 found no issues, and no concerns were raised in Assembly Committee hearings.
“As the review of our service noted, in providing services regarding private tenancy law, the TU is unique and specialised,” she said. “It is regarded as the ‘go-to’ service across the community sector for anything to do with private tenancy matters.”
The Tenants Advice Service (TAS) received $450,000 in 2018-19 and had a request for a funding increase of 15 per cent (or $67,000) rejected back in February.
The government says there will be no gap in service delivery, and Legal Aid ACT provided strong evidence of its capacity to deliver the TAS through its existing infrastructure and well-developed service model for similar specialist legal services, such as the Older Persons ACT Legal Service (OPALS) and the general advice Helpline.
It says Legal Aid ACT proposes to extend the opening hours of the Tenants Advice Service and will offer complementary services such as live chat.