Ombudsman findings long overdue, welcome recognition of systemic issues with maintenance claims against public housing tenants

    After advocating for investigation into the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) management of public housing for over a decade, Tenants Victoria is strongly supportive of the Victorian Ombudsman’s recommendations to improve management practices within the sector.

    A report published by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass on Monday found that DHHS was “failing to live up to its commitment as a ‘social landlord’ and wasting public resources through its inept management claims at the end of public housing tenancies”.

    With the support of several housing sector organisations including Tenants Victoria, a number of systemic issues were uncovered including:

    • A default practice of raising significant maintenance claims against former tenants whilst failing to take into account fair wear and tear, depreciation and other special circumstances such as family violence, mental and physical illness or evidence of third-party damage
    • Sending letters advising former tenants of claims against them to addresses the Department knows are no longer correct
    • Failing to negotiate with tenants or their advocates on the best possible outcome
    • In effect outsourcing its responsibilities to determine a debt to VCAT, wasting public resources and breaching its responsibility as a Model Litigant
    • Withholding future housing from former tenants until a payment plan is agreed to

    “This report is long overdue recognition that the State, as a public housing landlord, is not doing the right thing by public housing tenants,” says Tenants Victoria CEO, Mark O’Brien.

    The Tenants Victoria Legal Service has worked with a number of public housing tenants over several years who have faced these situations, often being stuck with unreasonable claims for the tens of thousands of dollars.  The dysfunctional practices for handling maintenance claims against public housing tenants have led to countless tenants being denied access to the basic human right to housing, forcing them into homelessness.

    “We understand that the Victorian Government has accepted the recommendations made by the Ombudsman, including implementing a change management package to equip Department staff with the necessary knowledge, skills and resources required to engage with former tenants during the MCAT process.”

    “We strongly support these recommendations and look forward to working with the Department to ensure proper implementation of these recommendations.”

    Tenants Victoria acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.