Information for Tenants about Cuts to the TUQ and your Tenant Advice Services
What will it mean for tenants if the TAAS Program is no longer funded?
Free tenancy advice is currently available from the Tenants’ Union of Queensland (TUQ) as well as local tenancy advice services in 28 locations across the state. These services are all funded from a program called the TAAS Program and these services are often referred to as TAAS services.
The Queensland Government announced it will cease funding the TAAS Program from 31 October 2012, a program which has been funded in one form or another since the Ahearn government announced the Housing Referral Worker program in response to housing issues arising from World Expo 1988.
Local tenancy advice services would already have ceased to operate and the TUQ operations severely curtailed except that in early October the Commonwealth government provided emergency funding for services to take them through to June 30, 2013.
Services and their supporters and now seeking a commitment from the state government to continue funding for the TAAS Program. Unless the state government makes an announcement to this effect in the near future, local tenant advice services will be closed by the end of the financial year and the TUQ will have to be restructured. The TUQ’s advice line which now operates every day and two evenings could not be sustained.
In a year the TUQ provides about 7500 advices to tenants whilst collectively tenant advice services across the state assist around 80,000 households with about 100,000 advices either face to face or on the phone.
Tenants who have language or literacy issues, are upset because of the risk to their housing or who simply don’t understand the law will no longer be able to access assistance face to face to fill in forms, write letters to their agent or gain assistance in preparing or appearing in the Tribunal to resolve their tenancy dispute.
How is the TAAS Program funded?
The vast majority of funding for the TAAS Program was generated from the interest on tenants’ bonds which must be lodged with the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA). Effectively, Queensland tenants pay for tenant advice services by foregoing any interest on their bonds. The government contributes a small percentage of funds, but the entire program could have been funded with around 15% of tenant bond interest in the last year of funding.
For the 2011/12 year it was projected that the RTA would provide 12% of its annual bond interest monies to the TAASQ Program. The RTA is also entirely funded from the interest generated from tenant bond monies. It provides free services (like dispute resolution), resources and information to landlords, agents and tenants. For the 2011/12 year it was projected that 75% of the interest generated on tenants’ bonds would be used to run the RTA.
Despite the previous Minister for Housing (Dr Bruce Flegg) saying tenants can go to the RTA, their services are not the same as those provided by the tenant advice services. The RTA often refers tenants onto the TUQ or a local tenancy advice service. The RTA provides information, not advice, to any party to a tenancy agreement.
What will happen to the TAAS program money?
The government has previously said that funding saved on the TAAS Program will be put into the delivery of public housing. Tenant advocacy services strongly support public housing in our communities but are opposed to the interest generated on tenants’ bonds being used to fund this core government responsibility. This is especially when it comes at the expense of the program aimed specifically at assisting tenants.
TAAS funded services save the government money as they predominantly work with tenants in the private rental market. Their work helps households avoid homelessness and the need to join the social housing waiting list. Their work also helps people get their bond back and defend unreasonable monetary claims made against they. Reallocating the program funds to building public housing would achieve about 20 houses per year to reduce a waitlist of 23,000.
TAAS funding withdrawal will not save money and it makes no sense. There are 500,000 Queensland renting households all of which would miss out on these vital services. Tenants living in the private rental market are the most likely of any tenure group to be living in poverty after paying their housing costs.
Where can I go to get tenancy advice?
The Minister for Housing says that tenants can go to the RTA for help. The RTA provides information to lessors, agents and tenants. This is not the same as getting tenancy advice from a tenancy advice service.
The RTA tells everyone what tenancy laws say but does not assist them to understand and apply that to their individual situation. This is the provision of advice and assistance which, as a tenant, you get from the TUQ and local tenant advices services. Access points across the state mean that tenants who are unable to self-advocate or have documents which need to be seen can make their way to their local service. They can receive help to respond or apply to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal if they have an unresolved tenancy dispute. Having tenants well prepared before hearings saves time in the Tribunal.
Lessors and agents already get a huge benefit from tenants foregoing the interest on their bonds because that money provides them with free RTA information. The government benefits also because there is no cost to them for the services provided by the RTA.
What can I do?
If you are concerned about the future of our services and want to support our campaign for funding to be restored to us then please contact the Premier, the Treasurer, the Housing Minister and/or your local member. Ask them to reinstate tenant bond interest for tenant services. See our ‘How can I help’ section.