The Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service (TAAS) in West End was featured on the ABC TV’s 7.30 Queensland on Friday August 10 as part of a review of government cuts affecting the Queensland community services sector. View it here.
TAAS worker Joe Hurley highlighted how the program assists people to remain in private rental market housing, reducing demand for social housing. Coverage also showed the reach of the TAAS program to many people on low incomes living in marginal housing.
In a follow up interview, the Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls discussed the withdrawal of funding to the TAAS program. He stated that the vast majority of advice is provided by the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) which supplies three times as much advice as the combined efforts of all the smaller groups (meaning the TUQ and local tenant advice services). See the interview here.
There are two key inaccuracies in what the Treasurer has said that need to be corrected.
Firstly, the RTA does not provide advice at all. The RTA has an information service which is available to landlords, real estate agents and tenants. As an information service the RTA will tell you what the law says but cannot work with you to apply that to your own situation and help determine your best options.
For tenants, advice is available from the TUQ and local tenant advice services, either face to face or by phone depending on the individual’s need. These services not only work with tenants to identify their best options according to individual circumstances and desired outcomes, they also empower tenants to act on their chosen option by providing assistance to engage in the procedures set out in the law.
By contrast, impartial information from the Brisbane-based RTA is only available by telephone. They cannot advise tenants. They cannot advocate on behalf of tenants. And none of their services are available face to face anywhere outside of the centre of Brisbane city. The RTA – fully funded by tenant bond interest – has a role to play, but it certainly isn’t to provide advice to tenants or to advocate on their behalf.
Secondly, whilst it is true that the RTA provides three times the number of information services collectively to landlords, real estate agents and tenants than the TAAS sector provides solely to the latter group, the nature of these services are vastly different rendering the numerical comparison meaningless. For example, the time taken to understand a tenant’s individual circumstances, review their relevant documentation and assist them in corresponding with their real estate or, if necessary, the tenancy tribunal cannot be compared with the information they would get by calling the RTA. Indeed, the RTA refers a large number of tenants who call them to the TUQ and the local advice services because they cannot satisfy their needs.
Last year the RTA cost $30m to run compared to the TAAS program at $6.4M ($5M from tenant bond interest and $1.4M from consolidated revenue). Consolidated revenue of $1.4M was an increase from the previous year due the government’s desire to provide additional advice work in three mining communities. Tenant bond interest contributes the majority of TAAS program funding providing $5M. It is neither fair nor equitable to remove this funding from the Program.
In summary, it is misinformed or disingenuous to suggest the abolition of the TAAS program will not result in a tangible loss of service that will be acutely felt by Queensland tenants. The RTA does not replicate the work of tenant advice services.
This decision to withdraw the TAAS program must be reversed.