Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 09 Hansard (Tuesday, 16 August 2005) . . Page.. 2769 ..
amendment No 1 circulated in my name, which inserts a new clause 7A and I table a supplementary explanatory statement to the amendments [see schedule 2 at page 2785].
Just by way of explanation, this amendment flows from discussions that the department has had with stakeholders. The amendment clarifies that the Residential Tenancies Tribunal must be satisfied that a tenant owes an amount to the Commissioner for Housing before endorsing an agreement that requires repayment of the amount.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.28): I move amendment No 1 circulated in my name on the green paper which amends Mr Stanhope’s amendment. [see schedule 3 at page 2785].
The government amendment No 1 inserts a new section 10 (4) (a). This new section clarifies that the Residential Tenancies Tribunal must be satisfied that a tenant owes an amount to the Commissioner for Housing before endorsing an agreement that requires payment of the amount. The Foskey amendment, the Greens amendment, extends the onus on the tribunal to be satisfied that past debt to be repaid to the Commissioner for Housing has been determined through a fair debt review process, that the amount owed to the Commissioner for Housing has been substantiated, and that the proposed arrangements for repayment of the amount to the Commissioner for Housing will not cause significant financial hardship to the tenant or a person who is financially dependent on the tenant.
The rationale behind both the government’s amendment and my more detailed amendment is to ameliorate some of the potential problems with the proposed new section 15, part 5. The new section 15, part 5 allows the Commissioner for Housing to negotiate a residential tenancy agreement for public housing that includes repayment of a previous debt as well as rent payable on the property nominated in the agreement. There has been considerable opposition to this clause amongst community groups representing the interests of ACT Housing tenants including the Welfare Rights and Legal Service, the Tenants Union and CARE Financial Services.
This amounts to unfair discrimination against Housing ACT tenants because no similar requirement or option exists in relation to other types of tenancies, and Housing ACT tenants rarely have choices available to them in relation to housing providers. They are vulnerable to agreeing to arrangements that are not fair because they are in urgent need of housing. There have been examples provided to me of people agreeing to repay debts or alleged debts that are so old as to be barred by the statute of limitations or that have been previously included in a consumer bankruptcy and are no longer collectable.
Community groups have argued that there is no need for this act to include provisions for repaying previous housing debt. This is adequately dealt with under administrative law. Furthermore, combining current rent payments with previous debt effectively means that a tenant can be evicted twice for one debt. The government has argued that it is necessary to include a clause regarding past debt in this legislation to ensure that people are not excluded from public housing on the basis of past debt. However, I understand that ACT Housing is no longer excluding people with past debt and this is largely as a result of better processes for dealing with debt.
The housing debt working group and pilot project are working towards better decision making regarding debt repayment which includes processes for considering all of the