I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about tenancy disputes.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: There was an item in Budget Paper 4, Volume 2 at page 7.18 which is a target for OCBA in 2009-10 to 'implement an advocacy, education and financial counselling service for the Tenancies Branch'. I note that the minister issued a press release herself on this topic and was quoted in The Advertiser of Monday 29 June as saying that a $35 feefor Residential Tenancies Tribunal applications is expected to raise $194,000 next year and $1.4 million over the next four years.
I have been in contact with the Landlords Association of South Australia, which was not consulted or formally informed that the scheme was to be implemented. The Landlords Association has concerns that there are already existing advocacy services—for example, Shelter SA and Anglicare's tenants information service, both of which receive government grants to carry out these services. The association has expressed concern that the system is continually weighted in favour of the tenant as opposed to the landlord and, further, that this scheme will be implemented at the expense of the landlords. My questions are:
1. Of those complaints made to the tenancy tribunal, how many are brought by tenants and how many by landlords?
2. What research was conducted to develop this scheme?
3. Is it a duplication of the services already provided by the non-government organisations I have mentioned?
4. Why is this fee to be the responsibility of the landlords?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (14:46): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. This is an innovative and most important new initiative that this government has recently announced, and it is to improve the financial counselling services, amongst other things, to both tenants and landlords. In fact, it is a win-win for all. Both tenants and landlords will have access to these services. We found that there was a need to assist people earlier in their negotiations and disputes in order to resolve those matters before they escalated to a hearing before the tribunal. Of course, once a dispute has escalated to that level, it is often time-consuming and difficult to get people to look at other ways of resolving the issue. So, if you like, this was an attempt to try to nip disputes and disagreements in the bud.
Indeed, it is a very worthy initiative. This would allow a number of disputes to be resolved around financial matters, particularly if tenants get into problems with being able to meet their financial commitments. This would avail them of a service that would assist them to manage their finances better, to sort out their finances and to enable them to fulfil their obligations better. That is also in the interests of the landlord. If a tenant is able to pay their rent on time, obviously that is to the benefit of the landlord as well.
As I said, it is an initiative to which both landlords and tenants have access. Even if the service is being provided more to tenants, as the honourable member is suggesting—and I do not necessarily agree with her—its benefits to the landlord are still obvious. It is clearly a win-win for both tenants and landlords. Such an application fee is consistent with other jurisdictions. I understand that in Victoria (in a similar jurisdiction) the charge is around $35; in the ACT, the fee is about $56; in Queensland, it is between $14 and $78; and, in New South Wales, it is $33. You can see that we are consistent with the practices of other jurisdictions and we have worked to keep this impost at a very modest level. Clearly, we have made provisions for those people who are on concessions, and students will be exempt from the payment of this fee.
I have also requested that a policy around hardship be established so that if paying such an application fee does apply undue hardship on someone or their family they are able to put their case forward, and discretion can be made around the application of the fee, whether in full, partial payment or instalments. We aim very much to accommodate individuals' needs in relation to that. It is certainly not a duplication of services: it is something which is unique in a number of respects and which is aimed very much at providing a win-win for both tenants and landlords. In relation to requests for numbers around applications, I do not have that on me, but I am happy to take that on notice and bring back a response.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:51): As a supplementary question: will the minister outline what is the difference between this service and those which already exist through organisations such as Shelter SA and Anglicare?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (14:51): As I have already mentioned, this is specifically targeted to assist landlords and tenants to identify problems and deal with issues early in the piece rather than when they actually get into a full-blown dispute. It is about providing a range of services or referrals to services such as those the honourable member has mentioned but also providing a conduit in some respects to ensure that a person who is in trouble and having problems paying their rent is provided with support, information and assistance early in the piece so they are able to fulfil their obligation and meet their responsibilities. It is the same, too, with landlords: often, a lack of information can cause problems. Again, this is a designated service to provide an early response and a conduit to appropriate support and assistance.
In reply on 14 October 2009:
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy): I am advised that:
During the 2008-09 financial year, over 15,000 applications for an order of the Residential Tenancies Tribunal were lodged with the Residential Tenancies Tribunal Registry.
Of those applications, approximately:
8,900 were lodged by agents (on behalf of landlords);
1,900 were lodged by landlords;
1,950 were lodged by tenants; and
2,250 were lodged by other interested persons or where actions were brought under the Retirement Villages Act 1987 or the Residential Parks Act 2007.