Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service

On 24 July this year, by email, all 24 services funded through the Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service network in Queensland received information that their funding was over. They did receive three months, until 31 October, to wind things up, but that is how people found out across Queensland that this incredibly valuable and longstanding service was no longer going to be available for our citizens.

The Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service offers very important practical services for people involved in rental housing in Queensland. Its services include assisting private rental tenants, public housing tenants, future tenants and members of the general community to understand the rules about rental accommodation; to gain confidence to work with the legislation, which is the basis of the process; to help people by assisting them with information and preparation for the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearings. It is always a stressful time when you are placed in that kind of situation, but TAAS was there to provide that support and information.

TAAS ensured that people knew their rights and responsibilities. It is sometimes extraordinarily tough for people working through the expectations of being involved in tenancy, understanding their rights and responsibilities, and most importantly having the confidence to know that they are part of a system and that they have a right to have their own knowledge and their own situation explained regularly. One of the things that TAAS prided themselves on was their professionalism and their personal advice. Increasingly across Queensland, we had people from different multicultural backgrounds, with different languages, understanding the issues of moving into rented accommodation. These people were the clients of TAAS. I know, from speaking with the people who have worked in TAAS, and they have had decades of experience, that it was important to them that their service was up to date and, most importantly, was personal.

When the TAAS network found out that they were no longer to have funding, they actually turned to their own community to let them know what had happened, to share with them the kinds of things that people in the community would have to now do for themselves, rather than using this valuable personalised service. There has been an overwhelming response. People know what TAAS has done for them and we have information from a range of organisations talking about how they value the service and about their fears for the future, because they do know that every year TAAS provided assistance to around 80,000 renting households, either face-to-face with interviews or by phone. In terms of the process, no-one quite knows where that service is going to come from next.

One of the bodies that has been lost is the Tenants' Union of Queensland, a longstanding organisation. I once shared accommodation with the Tenants' Union of Queensland in one of my previous jobs and I saw the number of people that went in and were given the confidence to ask questions and feel as though they would be getting support at a time when they were often under stress.

Major important clients of the TAAS services were people who were in rented accommodation but TAAS also provided information for landlords, accommodation service providers and real estate agents to make sure that there was that free-flowing open communication, because consistently so many problems occurred because people were lost and confused and genuinely did not know what their rights and responsibilities were.

This system, the Queensland Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service system, was not paid for exclusively by the Queensland government. This is one of the more offens­ive elements of cutting this service, because most of the money to fund the service came out of the bonds that people paid when they were going into a rental property, so a large percentage of that money went back into providing this service. In the last couple of years the Queensland state government had topped it up, the reason being that TAAS had provided such a valuable service. The Queensland government knew that if they gave tenants appropriate information leading to them understanding their situation there would be fewer problems because every time there was a clash working through the legal system it cost money and time and, most particularly, it caused stress and unease for the people involved.

Also, the fact is that this funding has been cut at exactly the same time as the Queensland government has been putting out information-although I think appropriately in many ways-and calling upon people to look at their own needs in the public housing system, which has added to the general sense of unease, lack of confidence and fear. We have heard evidence that, on receipt of letters from the Queensland government to public housing tenants talking about their assessment of their own personal needs for housing, people have been so distressed and fearful that they have lost confidence and locked themselves away in their houses rather than seek advice and help from exactly the kind of service that TAAS provided-again a place where people could feel safe and confident to ask advice. So we have the double-whammy where we have a state government that is seeking to save money, and there is no problem with any government seeking to save money but it is how it does it that is important. So instead of working with the community and working with the people who best know the situation, correspondence is sent out automatically with a survey about what your own needs for accommodation are. We all know that there is a massive and critical shortage of social housing in our state-and I think it is across the country but I know best about the situation in Queensland-and we know there are extensive waiting lists. Say you have lived in social housing for a period of time and you receive a letter that asks, 'What are your real needs? Could you reassess your own needs? Would you consider moving?' You are automatically in a fearful position. You are also in a position of a lack of power. So in terms of the process at a time when people are vulnerable we are reducing the services that help them work through this process.

In the same field we have had the removal of funding from an organisation whose representatives I have met with a couple of times and which looks after people who are in manufactured housing and mobile homes. This service, which operated out of Wynnum, provided real help and advice, in the same way as TAAS, for people who had mobile homes and lived in that area. I refer to CAMHRA, which stands for the Caravan and Manufactured Home Residents' Association. This organisation through memberships looked after around 1,000 people including park residents. People who have manufactured homes have full ownership of the accommodation but no ownership of the land, so they are in a quite vulnerable position. We have on top of that people who live in caravan parks. We know that in Queensland, given the massive shortage of housing, many people choose or have the choice forced upon them to live in caravan parks whose operators often have a fairly difficult record in the sense of rights and responsibilities as to their clients. Also, many of these parks are being closed. At the same time in the June-July-August period-a very difficult time in Queensland-the state government announced it was closing three of the caravan parks that it actually owned-once again, fear and uncertainty for the people that were involved in that process.

So at a time when there are massive changes going on and at a time when the media is covering the process and putting lots of information out there about what is happening, increasing the vulnerability and fear, the one organisation that has the knowledge of the caravan parks and mobile homes legislation, CAMHRA, has lost its funding. So the people to whom many people have turned for help are no longer there. The state government have said that the money they are saving from some of these changes will be reinvested into public housing. Now that is something: an investment in public housing is greatly welcomed. But the government should not be taking away one form of support and source of information to be replaced with something else which may or may not happen. It is also an issue that the amount of money being saved will not fund the number of houses that we need to address the public housing need in Queensland.