The Hon. F. PANGALLO (15:01):
Supplementary question to the minister: how does Housing SA intend to collect $20.5 million in customer debt that has been outstanding since May 2018?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services) (15:02):
I thank the honourable member for his question, which might I note does not particularly relate to the original question. However, I am happy to respond that the South Australian Housing Authority has arranged debt management procedures aimed at reducing customer debt, as well as initiatives to prevent debt accrual. This includes a text message service to notify customers when they incur a new debt or break a repayment arrangement; reminds vacating tenants to leave the property in a clean and tidy condition to avoid incurring cleaning or rubbish removal costs; and educational postcards, which advise tenants of potential costs of leaving rubbish and belongings behind on vacancy, as rubbish removal costs are a significant cause of debt.
Arrangements can be made when the customer is unable to repay their debt in one payment. Where tenants don't respond to efforts to recover debt, the authority may apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have the tenant evicted. SACAT makes the final decision on whether the tenant should be evicted, not the authority. Some debt is also written off in line with strict procedures.
Can I also implore him to support legislation that I understand was attempted to be supported through the previous parliament, the automatic rent deduction scheme, which has been broadly supported. I think initially it was an initiative of the Labor Party in government. People who get into debt situations end up having poor credit records. If they can have their payments taken out automatically through such a scheme then they are less likely to fall into arrears. I did have discussions with Centre Alliance members during the passage of that debate, and I intend to do so again when it comes up in the federal parliament.
I can advise that the total number of customers with a debt has reduced: in the 2017-18 financial year it was some 13,923, which includes current and former tenants. As at 30 April this year that had reduced to 11,984. I think it is fair to say it is not in anybody's interests, either the tenant or the Housing Authority, to have debt, so we do take a number of measures to ensure that people do not accrue debt in the first place. If they do, then we have arrangements in place for them to pay it back.