Tenants Union devastated as advice service goes to Legal Aid ACT

Ian Bushnell 19 December 2019 7
Tenants Union executive officer Deb Pippen

Tenants Union executive officer Deb Pippen says the organisation was blindsided. Photo: File.

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.


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7 Responses to Tenants Union devastated as advice service goes to Legal Aid ACT
Chris Cross Chris Cross 1:13 pm 21 Dec 19

38 years of service doesn't guarantee 39. An open and fair tender process was held to determine the best way to spend public funds. Sounds like there was a little bit of complacency in the Tenants Union's tender and they got caught out. And it looks as though the competing bid offers expanded operating hours and additional services such as live chat. Plus, asking for a 15% increase in funding back in Feb most likely spurred the public tender process on to see if the current money was being used as efficiently as possible. It's obvious by the result that it quite possibly wasn't. Public services like this aren't provided on tradition. There has to be value and I'm glad the Government is making sure our money is spent wisely and not just poured into a particular organisation "just because that's what we've always done". Better luck on the next tender I guess.

Robert McMahon Robert McMahon 12:52 pm 21 Dec 19

Legal Aid will handle professionally. A good outcome.

Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 12:47 pm 21 Dec 19

Good luck to anyone trying to get help through Legal Aid, the wait times will have you out of your place before you get help.

Sacha Blumen Sacha Blumen 12:09 pm 21 Dec 19

The focus should be on the best provision of services to tenants, not on the organisation that provides that advice

Femke Withag Femke Withag 11:30 am 21 Dec 19

Very sorry to hear that. Thank you to the people of the Tenants Advice service for your great work!

Callum Bowen Callum Bowen 10:43 am 21 Dec 19

Wait, so tenants will be supported with longer opening hours and a live chat service that wasn’t previously available?

And TU say they were “blindsided” by the tender process after being informed in August, which gave them three months to put together a tender package for a role they were already performing? And instead they went with a “grass roots” campaign only last month?

There’s something weird in this story. Surely the important thing is the service those in need (tenants) are or are not receiving, and not whether or not a company or organisation has lost a contract when it appears another company or organisation can deliver the service better?

Is there a concern that LegalAid won’t be able to provide the same level of support for tenants as TU? It seems they’ll be expanding on the services currently available. 🤔

Just saying.

Sue Skinner Sue Skinner 10:07 am 21 Dec 19

This is horrible for clients also. I work in the mental health sector & currently in the process of handing over clients to another company who received funding for a period of ongoing support.

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